Point of View: Hatchery fish benefit many fishermen

Last July I saw some beautiful bright sockeye coming off of small boats and being cared for at the cleaning tables in the Homer Harbor, China Poot Reds. A quick search on social media tells some of the story: “Dipnetting red salmon in China Poot creek. 12 fish in 10 minutes!” and “Any news on China Poot? My dipnet is calling me.” Along with these posts are amazing photos and videos showing Alaskans partaking in this personal use red salmon fishery, nestled in China Poot Creek across Kachemak Bay.

As a board member for the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA), I have been thinking about this fishery along with all the other fisheries that CIAA helps provide. Mention of CIAA tends to evoke passionate feelings one way or the other in the Homer area, especially concerning the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery. I am a Homer-area resident and I want to share my perspective on the benefits of having salmon hatcheries contributing to our community.

One of the best examples of a mutual benefit to CIAA and the lower Cook Inlet community is the China Poot Bay fishery, which supports personal, sport and commercial fisheries. Red salmon are raised to the smolt stage at Trail lakes Hatchery near Moose Pass and have been stocked into China Poot Lake for more than 40 years. The returning adult salmon cannot ascend the waterfall outlet to the lake, which also prevents a natural run. The fish are therefore available for harvest by the community. A portion of the return is also reserved for “cost recovery.”

CIAA bids the cost recovery out to a processor who is responsible for catching that portion of the fish and returning the proceeds to CIAA. That revenue helps cover the costs of raising and releasing the fish. Because the return to China Poot is relatively small, CIAA relies on cost recovery of pink salmon returning to Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery to cover a large portion of the expenses of raising the fish as well as helping to fund CIAA’s habitat restoration and educational outreach.

While cost recovery provides the bulk of CIAA funding, another source is from Cook Inlet commercial fishermen. It is these fishermen that are not only providing revenue through a tax levied on their harvest, but also volunteer time towards the governance of CIAA that allows the China Poot fishery, among others, to continue for all users — a positive contribution when typically all you hear about concerning Cook Inlet salmon fisheries is centered on “allocation wars.”

In addition to being a personal use and sport fisherman I am a commercial fisherman; I’ve been doing that since I arrived here and camped out on the Homer Spit in 1994. These days my family and I own and operate the 48-foot F/V Captain Cook. In the summer I’m lucky enough to seine for salmon in Lower Cook Inlet. Other salmon fisheries like Prince William Sound and Kodiak tend to net more dollars, but I enjoy being able to fish out of Homer. Last summer I had a fun crew. My skiff man, John, grew up in Nanwalek and is a natural; on deck I had Neil from Nikolaevsk and Sirena who grew up in Seldovia. My daughter came out too — Kachemak Bay kids who like to laugh and love fishing their local waters. They even went dip netting at China Poot.

So, if you are heading over to China Poot this summer to catch some reds, please remember where these fish came from. You might want to add “#CookInletAquacultureAssociation” to that social media post.

Malcolm Milne is a longtime commecial fisherman and a board member of the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association.

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