KODIAK — Commercial fishermen pick up the tab for just about anyone who catches a salmon in Alaska that started its life in a hatchery.
That was a finding that wended its way to the surface during a hearing last week of the House Fisheries Committee on the state’s hatchery program. The program began in the mid-1970s to enhance Alaska’s wild salmon runs.
Unlike meetings that are top heavy with fishery stakeholders, most of the committee members are not deeply familiar with many industry inner workings and their interest was evident.
“Who funds the hatchery programs?” asked Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka), referring to the 25 private, non-profit associations that operate in Prince William Sound, Southeast Alaska, Kodiak and Cook Inlet.
Turns out, it’s commercial fishermen.
“In each region where there is an aquaculture association, commercial salmon permit holders have levied a salmon enhancement tax upon themselves from one to three percent,” said Tina Fairbanks, executive director of Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association.
Fishermen also catch and sell returning adult salmon to the hatchery which operators use to pay operating expenses, a process called cost recovery. In 2017 cost recovery fish, which fetch a lower price for fishermen than selling to processors, accounted for 79 percent of hatchery income.
There have been discussions about sport charter operators contributing, but it’s not really needed, said Steve Reifenstuhl, executive director of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. “Because of the mechanism we have for doing cost recovery there is not really a need to bring in additional money.”
“That’s very refreshing to hear right now that you have adequate revenue. That is not something we hear very often,” said Rep Sarah Vance (R-Homer). “So thank you to all the fishermen who contribute and make it sustainable.”
“The hatchery programs truly represent one of the most successful public/private partnerships in the state’s history,” Fairbanks said. “These facilities produce salmon for sport, subsistence, personal use and commercial fisheries at no cost to the state of Alaska. The revenues generated through commercial landings and fish taxes go back into the communities and state coffers and represent a great return on the state’s initial investment.”
“It’s very uncommon,” said Dan Lesh, an economist with the McDowell Group. “It is quite impressive that it produces such large economic benefits with no cost to the state.”
“It seems to me that the commercial fishing industry is paying out millions of dollars through foregone revenue in cost recovery and enhancement revenues that benefit Alaskans collectively,” responded Rep. Kreiss-Tomkins, adding that he would like to see an analysis done. “It’s paying for all Alaskans in a sense by underwriting this common benefit.”
Alaska’s hatchery harvest in 2017 of 47 million fish accounted for 21 percent of the statewide salmon harvest valued at $162 million to fishermen, which was 24 percent of the statewide value. That was the lowest percentage of hatchery fish in the overall catch since 1995, and due largely to a wild stock harvest that was the 3rd highest in Alaska history. An additional 194,000 Alaska hatchery fish were caught in the sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries.
Americans have very different perceptions on wild versus farmed fish, and whether it is grown in fresh or salt water.
In a new report called Aquaculture/Mariculture, US Market Insights and Opportunities, food industry trackers Changing Tastes and Datassential surveyed 1,500 consumers and 400 restaurant operators about their preferences for America’s three favorites: salmon, tuna and shrimp.
Nearly half of consumers and 40 percent of restauranteurs said they prefer wild ﬁsh and shellfish because it has better ﬂavor, quality, texture, is free of antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals. For salmon, 57 percent of consumers said they prefer wild caught; it was 64 percent for restaurants.
Both believe less than half of the seafoods we eat today comes from aquaculture. Overall, land based and nearshore aquaculture operations got much lower marks across the board.
Water pollution and impacts on water quality were listed as the top concerns by 66 percent of consumers for land based fish farms and 58 percent for near shore. Water concerns jumped to 80 percent among buyers.
The use of antibiotics and pesticides in fish farms ranked as the second concern by 64 percent of consumers and 68 percent for restaurant operators.
Consumers and buyers believe a substantial amount of seafood is already farmed in the deep ocean, and one quarter believe that open ocean mariculture is better for the environment than wild capture ﬁshing.
The report concludes that as more Americans shift to eating seafood, the share with no established preferences for wild versus farmed increases.
Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy has nominated Nicole Kimball, Vice President of Pacific Seafood Processors Association and Cora Campbell, CEO of Silver Bay Seafoods to seats on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. They would replace two current members whose terms expire this summer: Theresa Peterson of Kodiak and Buck Laukitis of Homer. The NPFMC oversees more than 25 fisheries in federal waters off Alaska, meaning from three to 200 miles out.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets April 1-9 at the Anchorage Hilton. On the agenda: Navy war game plans for May in the Gulf of Alaska. Comments on any items can be made through May 29.
For its upcoming meeting cycle, the state Board of Fisheries is accepting proposed changes to subsistence, personal use, sport and commercial and statewide fisheries at Kodiak and Lower and Upper Cook Inlet through April 10.
Tariffs on US imports from China will continue indefinitely the Trump Administration announced last week. The trade war, which began last July, has hit the seafood industry on both sides. SeafoodSource reports that Trump said he plans to “leave them on for a substantial period of time.”