Point of View: Understanding House Bill 52

Imagine you own a very valuable piece of land. You agree to rent it. The renter subleases it to a business which falls into serious debt. Ten years remain on the lease.

House Bill 52 proposes giving your leased land, and an additional 117 acres, to the renter so the business (in deep trouble) can continue to run. To placate your loss you are presented with parking lot land you already stake claim on.

If you are confused, that’s understandable. House Bill 52 is complicated.

The State of Alaska owns Tutka Bay Lagoon and it has been designated part of Kachemak Bay State Parks. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game rented it and built a hatchery. They rented it to Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association. The business is Tutka Lagoon Hatchery.

Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA) maintains four hatcheries, including Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery, with a goal of enhancing salmon production. They have done a great job in many areas, but for multiple reasons CIAA is in trouble. The business has State of Alaska loans and is in debt for over $15 million. They have never missed a loan payment, but the loans used questionable collateral, including land leased from the State Park as well as permits owned by Cook Inlet fishermen. The permits, once worth $200,000, are now worth only $20,000. Removing 123 acres of unique and exceptional land from a State Park (which has the highest level of protection, to benefit all Alaskans ) in order for a struggling business to accumulate more debt (HB52) is no solution.

Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery is especially problematic. High-value sockeye salmon, coho, chinook and chum are no longer able to be produced at the facility due to an Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis Virus (IHNV) that infects fish. Only humpback or pink salmon (low value fish) can tolerate the conditions. The shallow lagoon with limited water flow results in fish feces and carcasses that don’t readily flush out. Keeping fish alive in net pens with low oxygen content is difficult. Boats can’t access the lagoon for most of a tide cycle. The monoculture of humpies competes with wild salmon, clams, crab, shrimp and other species. In the years the Tutka hatchery was closed these species began to reappear.

Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association still has 10 years on the lease to find a new location. This is a significant window of time to find a site better suited for harvesting sockeye salmon eggs and other high value species. Charging a fee for a China Poot personal use permit or creating a Sockeye Salmon Stamp (like a King Salmon stamp ) will help support the well-loved fishery.

In the 1980s Kachemak Bay was known as “one of the richest bays in the world.” We picked dungeness crab at low tide, dug huge razor clams, and cooked shrimp on our boat engine blocks. One-hundred twenty-five species of mollusks were identified in Kachemak Bay and never recorded anywhere else on earth. Those species have all but disappeared. Last month an Alaska Fish and Game biologist said, “We manage by species, not ecosystems.” It is past time to manage species in light of ecosystems. Tutka Bay Lagoon would be a perfect place to begin the process.

Imagine. As Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery continues to operate in Kachemak Bay State Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve could be created. Internationally recognized Biosphere Reserves fund and support sustainable development. They reconcile conservation and development by putting “best practices” in place, facilitating exchange of “know how” and preventing conflicts. Kachemak Bay meets the criteria for a Biosphere Reserve, and with time and commitment this designation is possible. UNESCO Biospheres include all interested stakeholders. Cook Inletkeeper, Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, NOAA, the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, the Pratt Museum, Seldovia Native Association, Port Graham, Nanwalek and Kachemak Heritage Land Trust could work with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to make it happen. Tutka Bay Lagoon would be ideal headquarters for the Kachemak Bay UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Sue Christiansen is a lover of Kachemak Bay State Park and China Poot Dip Netting. This is a personal opinion piece, solely the author’s and does not represent the opinions or beliefs of any affiliates.