KENAI - Year-round operations at a hatchery south of Homer are being suspended because of low prices for pink salmon.
The Tutka Bay Lagoon hatchery plans to release 55 million pink salmon this year. It has produced more than 22 million adult pink salmon since operations began in 1975.
Gary Fandrei, director of The Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, said the board of directors decided earlier this month that continuing year-round operations simply is not cost effective.
"There's two factors," he said. "One is the survival rate is below the state average, and two, once the price gets below 10 cents a pound (for pink salmon), it's really hard to justify operating a facility."
Fandrei said the decision likely will impact lower Cook Inlet fishermen, who he said have been able to harvest up to 1 million pink salmon from the Tutka hatchery annually.
"It's going to be a significant problem for the commercial fishery down there," he said.
Although the price for pink salmon is currently near its historic low, Fandrei said if the price rebounds the hatchery will not be able to respond to the demand for fish.
"Once we stop taking eggs over there, we lose our brood stock," he said.
The decision to end the year-round program at Tutka Bay was not an easy one for the board to make. "It was a very close decision," Fandrei said.
He said one factor that may have played into the decision was the recent federal ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that shut down CIAA's Tustumena Lake operations. The case is currently under appeal.
If the ruling stands, the association will lose its egg source for several other lakes in the Cook Inlet system, forcing the association to investigate other options for rebuilding those stocks.