Hefty hatchery chum run boosting region's economy

Study says DIPAC injected millions into communities

Posted: Wednesday, May 30, 2001

Douglas Island Pink and Chum pumped nearly $40 million into the Southeast economy in 2000, according to a new study commissioned by the Juneau-based private nonprofit fish hatchery.

Last year was an especially good year because of large returns of chum salmon, valued for their eggs in the Japanese caviar market, at a time when Japan suffered poor returns of chums.

"We had a real nice combination last year of a record harvest with a five-year-high price," said Chris McDowell, seafood industry analyst for the McDowell Group.

Without the hatchery chums, Taku Fisheries wouldn't process one-tenth of the chums it does, said company President Sandro Lane.

In the early to mid-1990s it would have been tough to say hatcheries were good because they added to a worldwide glut of fish, including farmed fish, Lane said. But the day is coming when wild salmon, including fish from hatcheries, are recognized as a sustainable and healthy source of protein, he said.

The state expects this year's returns of DIPAC chums to be more normal - about half of last year's. But even at normal run levels, over the past 11 years DIPAC-raised fish have been worth an average of $2 million a year to fishermen and $9.5 million to Southeast processors, according to the economic study by the Juneau-based McDowell Group.

The report also estimates the broader local economic impacts of DIPAC fish as fishermen's and processors' earnings flow through the economy in their own purchases, helping to sustain jobs in other industries. In 2000, DIPAC fish resulted in $10 million in payroll and the equivalent of 360 year-round jobs, excluding commercial fishing employment, the report estimated.

In addition, the hatchery fish play an important role in the sport and personal-use fisheries in the Juneau area, which also has an economic impact, the report said. Anglers caught an average of 17,000 DIPAC salmon a year from 1990 to 2000, or about 40 percent of Juneau's annual sport coho harvest, and more than a quarter of the sport chinook catch in recent years.

Gillnetters are the main commercial fishing beneficiaries of DIPAC fish, the study shows. Since 1990, the annual dock prices to the gillnet fleet from DIPAC fish averaged $1.8 million, followed by $242,000 to trollers and $79,000 to seiners.

The gillnetters are mostly locals. About 93 percent of the DIPAC fish value in 1999, the latest available data, was taken by Alaskans, and 85 percent of those were from Juneau and Haines.

Since 1995 in the northern Southeast gillnet fisheries, DIPAC salmon accounted for 49 percent of the payments fishermen get at the dock and 69 percent of the volume of fish. With the big chum returns last year, the DIPAC contribution was up to 65 percent of the dockside value and 77 percent of the volume by weight.

"If it weren't for the DIPAC chums I think the gillnet fishery would have been in more dire straits than it is now," said Jerry Madden, executive director of United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters. "Last year really made the gillnetters."

More and more gillnetters consider themselves catchers and processors and sell roe, Madden said. The chum coming out of DIPAC has made that more possible, he said.

Some fishermen have been concerned by how much of the DIPAC harvest is taken by DIPAC itself to pay for its operations and its approximately $20 million debt to the state to build its facilities and run them in the early years. DIPAC doesn't receive a share of a fishermen's tax that funds some hatcheries.

Gillnetters, for example, caught an estimated 1.25 million DIPAC chum last year, and DIPAC caught nearly 1.7 million chums to recover its costs, according to a state Department of Fish and Game report.

Hatchery Executive Director Jon Carter said the study shows the economic benefits of the common-property harvest of DIPAC fish.

"This shows that the debt has resulted in a serious economic engine for Southeast Alaska, which is worth far more than the debt, which we are paying down," he said.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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