The Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently took up a regulatory change in Kachemak Bay (Intent to Adopt version of Kachemak Bay State Park Management Plan) that would eliminate operations at the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game founded this hatchery and then operated it from 1975–1991. Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA), a nonprofit regional aquaculture association, assumed operations in 1991. After 45 years in operation and 30 years under CIAA, we know a lot about Tutka’s impacts on the people who call Southcentral Alaska home.
The hatchery provides about 25 Alaskan jobs and measurable impacts to the region by providing increased harvesting opportunity for all user groups, reducing pressure on returning wild runs in years of low abundance, and supplying all salmon harvested by China Poot personal-use sockeye fishermen. Tutka’s annual production significantly impacts the economies of several small communities by hiring services to support the hatchery and increasing commercial salmon landings at local ports.
The China Poot personal use dip-net fishery will cease to exist should Tutka Bay operations come to an end. Any reduction in opportunity to salmon harvests made possible by Tutka would significantly impact stakeholders, communities and user groups but would be exceptionally hard-hitting during years of low returns. Protecting wild-run strength during years of poor returns is, in fact, the mission statement of the Alaska hatchery program statewide.
During the past several months, since DNR has taken this regulatory change up for consideration, hundreds of individual Alaskans, state legislators, several municipalities and city officials, and various organizations, entities and trade groups have stepped up to make their voices heard on the matter. The message is clear:
• The Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery is a vital component of the Southcentral economy;
• It’s important to ensuring sustainable fisheries for decades to come; and
• DNR should support the hatchery and allow for continued operations for future generations.
Notably, Seward, Whittier, Cordova, Homer, Chugach Alaska Corporation, the Seward Chamber of Commerce and several legislators joined fellow Alaskans in their support of Tutka Bay Hatchery operations. The support for Alaska’s salmon fisheries, one of our most precious and valuable renewable resources, is unified, cohesive, and encouraging. This fishery is critical as we navigate food security for Alaska and increasing demand for healthy food worldwide.
As first Vice President of the CIAA Board of Directors, our core values of credibility, accountability, education, and contributions to the resource and our region are my top priorities. It is these values that drive our mission and reinforce my belief that our salmon hatcheries help all Alaskans.
Accounting for more than 25 million pounds of commercial fish harvest and nearly $32 million in ex-vessel value, the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery supports several fisheries across Kachemak Bay, Cook Inlet, and the Kenai Peninsula. Additionally, annually, more than 26,000 sockeye salmon produced by the hatchery are harvested in sport fisheries, and more than 4,000,000 sockeye salmon are stocked into Resurrection Bay.
Although we’re all facing uncertainty right now, Alaskans strongly support sustainable salmon populations and the opportunity to harvest wild, sustainable protein. Whether it’s an Alaska Native Corporation, individual Alaskans, cities, or nonprofit organizations and trade associations, I’m grateful for the outpouring of support. I remain hopeful for a positive outcome and look forward to another 46 years of Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery operations and giving back to our neighbors, communities, and fellow fishermen.
Malcolm Milne is a commercial fisherman and first Vice President of the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association Board of Directors. Malcolm first seined in Kachemak Bay in 1995 and now owns and operates his own boat, seining and longlining out of the Port of Homer.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.