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By RICK DALE
They taste great and they’re good for everyone. Unfortunately, their numbers are declining all over Alaska’s coast and rivers. We’re talking about king salmon stocks and the poor returns of adult spawners.
No one knows why numbers are way down. Speculations include: “The Blob” of warmer Pacific Ocean temperatures that fed an algae bloom along the west coast from Yakutat to Chile; other fish eating salmon fry; squid, seals and humpbacks gobbling them at hatchery release sites; trawlers; or, too many fishermen in general.
In any case, to do nothing about king salmon enhancement now seems foolish. Many nay-sayers will give reasons why raising and releasing king salmon won’t work, however, the success rate in Washington, Oregon and California has been good — far better than doing nothing.
This letter is a starting point for working forward for the next 50 years. This isn’t a quick fix, but part of a blueprint that will take a decade before there’s noticeable improvement. It’s not intended to change the policy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, but is a plan to raise dedicated money for king salmon enhancement under their supervision.
Some of these ideas are already in place at areas like Carrol Inlet by Ketchikan, where the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association has released king salmon fry for a few years, trying to reestablish a natural king salmon run. King fry have been released in a few other places, including Anita Bay by Wrangell; and Crystal Lake Hatchery by Juneau has raised king fry for release in other areas.
But alas, the problem of money has slowed production of king salmon fry. Then, too, Fish and Game must work around a federal mandate that restricts enhancing natural king salmon runs with hatchery-raised fry, even if the original eggs and sperm came from that river.
Again, to do nothing is foolish.
There were 202,024 king salmon stamps sold in Alaska during 2016, generating $3,412,890 in revenue. Stamp prices increased in 2017 for nonresidents, which raised revenue to around $4 million. Presently, all king salmon stamp income goes into the Fish and Game fund.
Stamp prices should be increased again to all purchasers. I suggest a $5 increase, dedicated toward enhancement and matched by an equal amount from the stamp income that Fish and Game already collects. That would mean $10 per stamp toward enhancement, resulting in about $2 million in dedicated enchantment income. Then, Alaska legislators should double this money as a long-term commitment to do something positive about this problem.
Finally, the Trump administration has stated the federal government will match local funds put toward any good project that has long-term financial benefits for everyone within those communities ambitious enough to try to make a difference solving some of our own problems by raising money.
This would increase the king salmon fry enhancement total to about $8 million annually if all parties stay committed to this enhancement program. Other sources of income could include local governments, donations, larger commitment from the state, etc. Also, community volunteers might be willing to help Fish and Game or hatchery personnel.
Again, other states have had success raising king salmon and establishing new healthy runs.
Obtaining a $5 increase in stamp revenues dedicated toward enhancement and then support from our legislators is a good starting point.
The return for commercial trollers and sport fishermen would justify the expenditures and help unite all user groups toward a common goal.
Quite frankly, it’s about time recreational fishermen contribute toward salmon enhancement, and most would do so gladly.
This money would be well spent, advertising that we’re all working together to make a difference for the future.
One suggestion was to start a king salmon run in Blank Inlet by Ketchikan where there’s not a natural run. There wouldn’t be a conflict because of the mandate mentioned earlier, and this could be done throughout Alaska with places being chosen by the local communities and Fish and Game. The dedicated enhancement money could be paid to hatchery programs already in place throughout Alaska, and we would rely on hatchery and Fish and Game biologists for their best advice.
This program outlines a win-win for all concerned, and a good chance for us to unify under a common goal with long-term benefits for future generations.
Rick Dale is a longtime Ketchikan resident who graduated from Ketchikan High School and has spent decades living and fishing in the area.