Wanton waste?



A YouTube video of a kayaker paddling over a seabed buried in the carcasses of dead, unspawned pink salmon has the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association apologizing for a humpy massacre in Alaska’s Tutka Bay Lagoon, but some aren’t all that satisfied with the explanation for the calamity.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Alan Parks, a retired purse seine skipper from the Kenai Peninsula community of Homer and a former Tutka Bay fisherman, said on Tuesday.

What doesn’t make sense in Park’s view is this CIAA explanation for the waste of thousands of pounds of salmon:

“Many of you have seen a video showing dead pink salmon in Tutka Bay posted by My Way Alaska on August 10, 2019,” the organization said in a statement released Monday. “We want to take this opportunity to explain what you are viewing. To cover operational costs for the hatchery programs, CIAA develops cost-recovery harvest plans for areas where hatchery-raised fish will be returning, including Tutka Bay Lagoon in Kachemak Bay.

“Through a public bidding process, CIAA licenses the cost recovery operation to processors, who in turn contract for the catcher vessel (a seiner) to harvest the fish. Once the fish are harvested, they are taken straight to the processor. These fish are not used for hatchery broodstock.

“On June (sic) July 28, the cost recovery seiner was fishing in Tutka Bay Lagoon. It had a purse seine full of pink salmon when the bottom of the net snagged on something and ripped. Unfortunately, the fish were released and a number of them died in the process. We estimate that approximately 700–1,200 fish were lost. Accidents like this do sometimes happen to commercial fishing vessels, and we are sorry for any confusion it has caused. Please share.”

Parks said his problem with that explanation is that if a seine net rips, the rip opens a hole, and the fish swim out.  Based on 40 years of experience, he said, fish don’t die from simply being encircled in a net that snags on the bottom.

The net would have to be drawn up tight, he said – “pursed” as one might say – for the compression of hundreds of fish squeezed together to kill them. Otherwise, Parks said,”they’re going to remain alive.”

About the only way these fish could have died, he said, is if the net was pursed, brought to the boat and then broke open. But why then the fish weren’t simply scooped out of the lagoon is a mystery, said Nancy Hilstrand, a Kachemak Bay resident and sometime hatchery critic.

Wanton waste

She used the term “wanton waste” – a big, no-no under Alaska fishing and regulations – to describe what happened. Another Kenai resident with a longtime involvement in commercial fisheries, Hillstrand doesn’t understand why no attempt appears to have been made to recover the dead fish, which were still perfectly salvageable after coming out of the seine.

“Brail them,” she said. “Seine them up again. Use buckets, dip nets!”

She accused the private, non-profit, commercial-fishermen run aquaculture association of having a sadly cavalier attitude toward resource use.

“ADF&G (Alaska Department of Fish and Game) reported in 2015 a documented 75,000 dead loss, and the last two years we have documented this same scene of dead fish,” she said.

“This is not an exception to CIAA operations standard this is their normal routine.”

Parks said he just wishes the people involved with the organization were better stewards of the resource.

“It’s cost recovery,” he said. “It’s not a commercial fishery. There’s no competition. There’s no rush. Make a set; purse up. You should be able to see what your net’s doing. If it’s hung up, stop and free it.

“If you lose some fish, it’s no big deal. You’re going to make another set.”

“Cost-recovery” fisheries are state-sanctioned operations that allow the private, non-profit hatcheries to catch enough fish to cover their operating costs. Net-pen fish farming as practiced in Norway, Chile and elsewhere around the world has been illegal for decades in the 49th state, but Alaska is the national leader in open-range farming or what some prefer to call “salmon ranching.”

Big business

Driven by Alaska hatchery operations, the U.S. now leads all Pacific nations in ocean-ranched salmon production, according to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC). 

The U.S. pumped 1.9 billion young salmon into the ocean in 2017, according to the NPAFC. Eighty-four percent of the fish came from Alaska hatcheries. Alaska hatchery production is about two and a half times that of all the U.S. West Coast states and the Canadian province of British Columbia.

The fish are sold globally as “wild-caught salmon” as part of a state-backed marketing effort to differentiate the fish from salmon raised in farms criticized as environmentally unfriendly or polluted with drugs used to keep the fish healthy.

The Alaska hatchery program is viewed as a cleaner, more environmentally friendly alternative though the scale of the program has come under fire as global warming has focused new attention on the North Pacific. The Associated Press on Sunday reported some scientists fear “pink salmon numbers may threaten other North Pacific species.”

Some studies have indicated certain sockeye, coho and Chinook stocks may have been reduced by competition for food with an ocean brimming with pinks, the smallest and fastest maturing of the five species of salmon native to the West Coast of North America.

But the only salmon listed as “threatened” by the federal government are in Lower 48 streams where dams, agriculture and development have played havoc with salmon habitat.

Still, scientists studying the legacy of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 2017 found something unexpected in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Residual oil didn’t appear to be harming wild fish, but there were indications hatcheries were impacting wild sockeye salmon in the legendary Copper River.

When the hatchery production of pinks went up, the study said, the number of wild Copper sockeye returning to the river went down. Top state fisheries officials have largely dismissed such studies with the observation that “correlation is not causation.”

Or, as the AP’s Dan Joling wrote, “state regulators say they have no evidence that the ocean has reached its carrying capacity for hatchery fish, which rewarded Alaska commercial fishermen with sales averaging $120 million for 2012 through 2017. They are loath to seek a reduction in hatchery output because of the economic, societal and cultural value of the fish.

“But scientists who don’t have a connection to the department take a different view.”

The Tutka pinks, for their part, won’t be causing anyone any more problems.














16 replies »

  1. Tim,
    The entire Biosphere in Alaska is under attack these days.
    Keystone species like wolves and bears are decimated without interruption from F&G…
    We can thank Dunleavy for his appointments to the “management” boards.

      • Perhaps you have heard of the attempt to put the “buffer zone” back in place around Denali or the extensive “predator control programs” throughout the state?
        I believe years ago you were the deciding vote on the board to allow the slaughter of wolves around the N.P.?

      • “Wolf-protection advocate Rick Steiner has asked Alaska government officials to invalidate the vote of Al Barrette, a longtime Fairbanks tanner and taxidermist.”

        “He has had direct financial relationships with wolf trappers and hunters and stands to gain financially by removal of the very small existing buffer,” Steiner said.

      • I’d hardly say the bears have been decimated. You might want to re-evaluate the annual numbers again.

      • Got it, so legal hunting is now considered “slaughter”, while harvesting the organs of babies is called “choice”.
        Some twisted stuff there.
        There is a possible argument though on the pinks.

    • All is basically true Steve, except the adjectives like slaughter (i do not support. unlike what this article speaks of). I was upholding and complying with State law. I know that is a rare thing these days(complying with law).
      What you won’t find in the media is, i was cleared by the State AG of charges and there was no merit to any of the accusation.
      Secondly all PC programs were or are sustainable plans. I believe you can find that in the Constitution somewhere.

      • Al,
        When I see pictures of guys with 10 or 12 dead wolves at a time, I do not feel this is sustainable…hence the term slaughter.
        Also the PC program in unit 16 clearly was not sustainable and it has been stopped at this moment.
        As for you deciding the faith of wildlife when your business directly profits from their harvest…if the “ethics law” was passed by our Legislature we maybe could change things…but as it stands Alaskan Leadership has made it clear that “ethics” has no business stopping collusion between special interest groups and acting government officials.
        We are seeing this with top F&G appointments who have ties to groups like “Safari Club International” and other pro commercial hunting groups.
        With Trump’s latest push back on the Endangered species movement…I believe Alaska will one day wind up like many western states with little to no keystone species left.

      • Well Steve i predict your assumption is wrong of the loss of keystone species. Also you have no evidence that this is even happening. As for unit 16 if i remember correctly form last years BOG meeting moose have rebounded and are more plentiful, thus the board amended many restrictions and increased opportunity. That is why PC was no longer in effect.
        I don’t see your point about “ethics”? The State AG clearly found and stated, i nor my business interests violated no laws.
        I don’t see you yammering about 3 comp. fish guys on the BOF, Comp. fish persons with direct ties to the industry as Commissioner of ADF&G.

  2. On a different, though somewhat related, issue of game mismanagement: Was at Horseshoe Bay on Latouche Island recently. Stream that comes into the bay was packed full of spawning pinks. But only birds were eating the fish. Carcasses on the riverbank were only missing eyes, or picked clean to the bones. Absolutely no sign of bears feeding on these pinks. Not normal. And I definitely know what the signs are when bear feed at pink streams. Means that black bears have been over-hunted on Latouche. Throughout Western PWS there are now very few bears feeding at pink streams compared to previous decades. Over-hunting of black bears has been allowed for too long. Black bear season should be shut down for 5-10 years to let the bears come back. And then only allow very limited hunting by lottery permit. If at all.

  3. That a close look at that video. Those salmon are raw untouched without even taking eggs. They are just plain pre-spawning dead waste. This has all the clues of a Tutka Bay hatchery dump. They have been doing it for years but the DNR just tried to shut them down denying them a permit. No dump permit? No problem they just dumped what they can’t sell or use. This is just another reason for the North Pacific to not produce what it has been producing in the past. These guys are assaulting the ocean with billions of drone salmon stripping the food web and endangering everything wild in the ocean. Whales starving to death and going missing? King salmon vanishing without a trace? Giant pink and sockeye salmon? Alaska we have a problem…

  4. Setting aside whether their explanation is accurate or not, CIAA has screwed up about everything they touch. This ain’t no Nick Dudiak operation. There is barely a common property component to it anymore; people are paid to raise fish in order to pay salaries for themselves via ‘cost recovery’.

    I seined LCI for many years and did my share of cost recovery, mostly in China Poot but Tutka, too. It was done gratis in the beginning. Sad to see this but I’m hardly surprised.

    There has been a decades long fantasy that LCI could/would be turned into another Chignik or PWS, very much supported by big names in the game. Just google Paint River fish ladder. This periodic nonsense has inflated permit prices into the stratosphere about three times by my count.

  5. Why is it that we have to constantly follow behind these commercial fisheries messes to clear away all the deception and waste to expose the truth? Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery has been dumping millions of wasted salmon carcasses after ripping their eggs out for decades. They got a state ADEC permit to waste all those fish up to last year when the DNR asked them to apply for a DNR permit which they then denied.

    So it looks like Tutka just dumped their fish as usual anyway but somehow a person managed to snag a video of their constant waste of our fisheries resources. So the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association instantly comes out with a cover story explaining a commercial fisheries accident instead of just admitting this is a standard hatchery practice? Amazing right? Millions of salmon
    being want and waste dumped for decades… What nobody’s ever heard of that right? If the public catches and wastes one salmon they can expect a $350 want and waste ticket but a hatchery can waste millions of fish and never pay a dime. Why is this stuff happening?

  6. The explanation by CIAA isn’t very believable. This is an area that is fished for this purpose each and every year, and we are to believe that the cost recovery boat caught snagged something under water and tore the net open? I could buy off on snagging something in unfamiliar territory, but in Tutka Lagoon, where they do this fishing all the time? I’ve caught bottom with a seine before, if you do so and tear your net you don’t kill thousands of fish. I’ve seen and have pictures of seines filled with herring high and dry after they didn’t tear the net wide open and spill the fish, that will kill the fish. My guess is that they caught these fish and found out they had enough for the day so they dumped them out of the bag after they had pursed them up.

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