Hatchery issue is not 'us' against 'them'

Posted: Thursday, August 24, 2000

Thank you for printing the editorial from the Fairbanks News-Miner ("Scaling back hatchery operations may help"; Juneau Empire; Aug. 21) concerning hatcheries and Gov. Knowles' suggestion of production cutbacks. It is my hope the people of Southeast who read the editorial will recognize how serious the threat is to their hatchery program. The litany of misstatements of fact needs to be corrected, but I do so with a concern that this is taking on the tenor of "us" against "them" and that isn't the case.

On several occasions, members of the Southeast fishing community and hatchery organizations have offered to assist, where possible, to find out what is wrong with the salmon returns to Western Alaska. This has been an honest and well-intended offer. At the same time, we are being vilified for resisting an action (cutbacks in production) that would not only not help them, but would have a serious negative impact on the fishermen of Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska.

Correction No. 1: Hatcheries voluntarily have capped their chum production and in DIPAC's case, we actually reduced production three years ago.

Correction No. 2: Fishermen of Alaska have harvested approximately $700 million of enhanced salmon since the hatchery program was instituted. That is hardly, being "operated solely for the benefit of their private member owners." DIPAC is operated by an unpaid Board of Directors and always has viewed itself as a public trust of the people of Southeast Alaska, not a private corporation. For the record, there are no shareholders and no one receives compensation other than employees.

Correction No. 3: Hatcheries have paid back to the state a total of $29.3 million and most will be making payments this year. DIPAC has repaid $2.8 million and will be making a payment this year. This is certainly more than "token interest" as stated in the Fairbanks News-Miner editorial.

Correction No. 4: The only thing "mounting" is, understandably, emotional speculation by people who are looking for some answer to explain the collapse of a fishery that supports their very way of life. Scientists and hatchery operators question the "ocean-carrying capacity" speculation, not out of lack of caring or greed, but because it is not supported by evidence. Wild chum stocks located in the general area of the hatcheries are doing well and the size of wild chums at return is comparable to those of the hatcheries. If the hatchery releases were out-competing wild stocks, it should be manifested in local stocks first.

Scientists also have indicated that evidence of an ocean-carrying capacity problem would be small fish at return, not lack of return. Lack of return is more likely a symptom of "in river" or "near shore" problems rather than "open ocean over-grazing".

Correction No. 5: Fishermen and hatchery operators of Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska do care about the problems of the people of Western Alaska. We want to see good science applied. Let's find out what is really wrong and fix it, not just penalize another area of the state for having some success. The very study the Bering Sea Fishermen's group uses to indict hatcheries indicates the biomass in the Bering Sea may include 1 percent DIPAC fish. Can a number that small really be causing their problems?

In closing, I want to make two positions clear. Any cutback in production should be based on good science. And DIPAC, at least, won't apologize for trying to be responsible by being concerned about repayment of our state debt.

The sad part is destructive rhetoric like this editorial uses up the very energy that should be going toward finding solutions to whatever is really wrong with the salmon returns of Western Alaska.

Jon Carter is the director of Douglas Island Pink and Chum, Inc.

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