When Alaska became a state in 1959, the fledgling state government immediately instituted science-based fisheries management using sustained yield principles. Improved management helped, but coastal communities and the state economy lagged as the slow recovery process took place. When salmon runs had failed to recover by the early 1970s, the Legislature took two actions. First, it enacted a limited-entry program to control overfishing. Second, in partnership with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, it created the framework for the state hatchery program.

The latter was part of a carefully developed plan to supplement wild stocks and offset wide swings in natural runs, particularly for pink salmon. Learning from the mistakes of the Lower 48, the program required hatcheries to be sited away from naturally occurring salmon stocks, required the use of only wild brood stock, and other steps to protect wild stocks. Stabilizing the salmon fisheries made it possible for harvesters to make a living, for processors to remain open, and for coastal communities to develop stable economies.

Nearly 50 years later, it is clear these initiatives have succeeded. Today, the state’s salmon enhancement program with its with science-based management by the Fish and Game department, have helped to grow statewide salmon harvests since those lean years before statehood. From a salmon harvest of 25 million in 1959, we now routinely have catches of more than 100 million, which support thousands of fishermen and fishery-dependent businesses across Alaska.

Despite this success, and the stability that the hatchery program has provided the state and coastal economies, hatcheries are now being criticized by some who argue hatchery-produced salmon are overloading the ocean capacity, resulting in less food for king and sockeye salmon. The Alaska Board of Fisheries now has proposals before it to reduce current hatchery production and will meet on the issue Oct. 16.