ANCHORAGE - The state Board of Fisheries has delayed acting on a request to cut the hatchery production of chum salmon, including in Southeast.
Board members aren't certain they have the authority to order a cut, and they aren't sure it would raise fishermen's prices.
The Bering Sea Fishermen's Association wants the board to reduce chum production by hatcheries in Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound.
The association represents Western Alaska fishermen, and it's blaming the state-financed hatcheries for wrecking prices for wild chums from the Yukon, Kuskokwim and other Western rivers by glutting the market with millions of hatchery chums.
Hatchery operators and the fishermen and seafood packers that depend upon them contend that larger forces are to blame for Western Alaska chum problems, primarily the sharp rise in chums supplied by foreign fish farms.
The board opted Sunday to table the issue for a year pending further study, and possibly legislative action to clarify who may order a change in hatchery output - the board or the state commissioner of Fish and Game.
Jon Carter, executive director of Douglas Island Pink and Chum Inc., a Juneau-based hatchery company, said he believes the Department of Fish and Game has authority to regulate hatchery production, and he doesn't support a legislative change.
A committee of three fish board members also plans to meet with people on both sides of the issue and gather scientific information in an effort to find a solution.
Along with low prices, Western Alaska fishermen also have had some terrible returns of chum salmon to their rivers in recent years. Board members are split over whether cutting hatchery production would improve demand for Western Alaska chums.
``I believe it's a far more complex issue than that,'' said member Grant Miller, a Sitka commercial fisherman who has sat on the board of a major Southeast hatchery.
Miller said any cut in Southeast hatchery production would not result in higher prices for Western Alaska wild chums because Japanese hatcheries and foreign salmon farms immediately would boost their output.
Another board member, Fairbanks fish buyer Virgil Umphenour, believes the state's laws on hatcheries need review.
Umphenour told the Anchorage Daily News he would like lawmakers to consider whether hatcheries are producing more fish than the ocean can support and look at how hatcheries hurt markets for fish caught elsewhere in Alaska.
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