OPINION: Rep. Vance and HB52 support Alaska’s fishermen and local economies

I know I’m not the first person to bring up the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery. There’s been quite a bit of discussion about the hatchery, and Kachemak Bay State Park, in the months since Rep. Sarah Vance first sponsored House Bill 52. If passed, HB52 would allow for the continued operation of the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery and its compatibility with the functions of Kachemak Bay State Park. The hatchery would be allowed to continue operating, as it has for decades, and continue providing a valuable resource to Alaskans throughout the region. However, if HB52 fails, the ripple effects will negatively affect fisheries, tourism, food security and economic opportunity throughout Alaska. Drawing a line between the two outcomes and clarifying the real impacts tied to each outcome is important. It’s time that the harvesters of this region get the facts about this important end goal that Rep. Vance is so diligently working toward.

HB52 proposes a boundary adjustment involving the removal of about 126 acres from the park while adding about 266 acres in the Cottonwood area of the park. Public access to the lagoon and surrounding trails via the hatchery grounds, and therefore access to hiking, boating, fishing, camping, and the like, will remain the same as it has for the past 45 years. By adjusting the park boundary to remove the hatchery from the park, HB52 will solve a land disposal issue with the hatchery and ensure it can continue operations. Seward, Whittier, Cordova, Homer, Chugach Alaska Corp. and the Seward Chamber of Commerce have voiced support for the bill, understanding the vital role hatcheries play in sustaining one of Alaska’s most valuable resources: sustainable fisheries. Rep. Vance has been a clear advocate for Alaskans on this issue and has worked closely with the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources to correct the existing issue involving land designation, the hatchery and the park.

Were HB52 to fail, sockeye releases at Kirschner Lake, Hazel Lake and China Poot Lake would cease to exist entirely. The China Poot dipnet fishery would come to a halt. Recreational sockeye fishing in Tutka Bay Lagoon would become a thing of the past. In the Lower Cook Inlet, between 3 million and 7 million pounds of pink salmon harvest opportunities that support cost recovery, common property and fish processing would be eliminated. Tourism in the park would feel the effects, food security for Alaskans who depend on these fisheries for subsistence would be threatened, and the Southcentral economy would suffer. While some have suggested that the other programs conducted by Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, or CIAA, would be unaffected by the closure of Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery, that is not the case. For a nonprofit like CIAA, the closure of the hatchery would have a significant negative impact on CIAA’s ability to operate those other programs and derive some of the company’s income from its returns should Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery close.

HB52 is not a bill about saving Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery from closing. It’s a bill that will save the 25 million pounds of commercial fish harvested each year. It’s a bill that will save nearly $32 million in ex-vessel value the hatchery contributes to the broader Alaskan economy annually. It’s a bill that will save the more than 26,000 sockeye salmon the hatchery produces that are harvested in sport fisheries and more than 4 million sockeye salmon that are stocked into Resurrection Bay. Last but most certainly not least, it’s a bill that will save Alaskan jobs, increase harvest opportunities for sport, subsistence, and commercial fishermen, support harvest numbers for guides and charter boat captains taking out clients, and reduce pressure on salmon runs during years of lower abundance. Sustainable fisheries in Alaska are supported by our hatcheries, including the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery, to ensure abundance long into the future. HB52 is good for the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery, yes, but it’s also good for the Kachemak Bay State Park, fishermen of all types, Southcentral communities, and Alaskans across the state who enjoy fishing in this region for recreation and to fill their freezers.

Rod Van Saun has participated in Cook Inlet’s fisheries for more than 30 years. His experience includes personal sportfishing, guiding sport fishermen, seining, setnetting, processing, tendering, dipnetting, and both retail and commercial fish sales and marketing. He is passionate about fisheries being sustainable for future generations of Alaskans.

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