HB-52 Makes Hatchery Even Less Compatible with Kachemak Bay State Park
By Hal Shepherd
When it comes to politics, it seems that the truth is getting harder and harder to come by. It used to be that politicians would only stretch the truth if there was an inkling of believability and some potential that they could get away with it. These days, it seems some political leaders will say anything they want so long as it serves their purpose, even though no one believes it.
Take the Sponsors of House Bill 52 who falsely promote the Bill as a bargain for Kachemak Bay State Parks (KBSP), local fishermen and the state’s economy. In reality, it would deliver over 123 acres of prime Park land to the operators of the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery (TBLH) with little in return except the continued destruction of critical salmon habitat.
In the 70s and 80s, Kachemak Bay was known as “one of the richest bays in the world” including king crab, trophy sized Halibut and King Salmon and one-hundred twenty-five species of mollusks that were never recorded anywhere else on earth. Now, thanks to over-fishing, incompatible management practices, climate change and politics, those species have all but disappeared. Due, in part to its unique biological productivity, the Alaska state legislature withdrew almost 400,000 acres and mandated that the lands and waters withdrawn be managed as the KBSP “in order to protect and preserve this land and water for its unique and exceptional scenic value.”
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) has determined that the operations of TBLH directly conflicts with this mandate by producing an infectious Viral disease that makes production of salmon species other than Pinks impossible. The 1998 Hatchery’s Annual Management Plan and Reports states: “Due to problems associated with securing a disease-free water, ‘Efforts to incubate and rear sockeye were plagued by the infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV) in the Tutka hatchery, the experimental sockeye program was relatively short-lived, suspended in 1998.”
In fact, due to IHNV, TBLH raises only pink salmon which not only compete with wild salmon but also clams, crab, shrimp and other species and are starting to increase in numbers within the Kachemak Bay watershed due to climate change. As a result, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources has determined that the TBLH is incompatible with the statutory purpose, intent and definition of KBSP and that it is operating under an “illegal Interagency Land Management Assignment.”
Never-the-less, the Sponsors of HB-52 awkwardly, claim that the disease-producing TBLH
provides fish to the popular China Poot sockeye commercial and dipnet fishery. However, TBLH has no relation to the production of sockeye salmon and, therefore, could not possibly support the China Poot Bay fishery.
In fact, according to the Annual Management Plan, in 2004, the Hatchery’s operator “Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA) halted all Tutka Hatchery’s operations, essentially ending annual fall-scale pink salmon incubation and release programs” During the several years that the Hatchery remained closed, however, the China Poot sockeye fishery still thrived.
This is because contrary to the HB 52 Sponsor’s claim, the Sockeye that benefit the China Poot run are reared in the Trail Lakes Hatchery near Moose Pass and have nothing to do with the TBLH. In a form of bullying that has also become popular amongst a faction of political leaders when caught in a lie, one of the Bill’s sponsors, Rep. Sarah Vance, whose district includes the KBSP, has threatened that the China Poot sockeye fishery will close if the completely unrelated TBLH pink program closes. Does this mean that if Rep. Vance does not get her way and the proposed legislation does not pass, she plans to retaliate by finding a way to close down the completely unrelated Trail Lakes Hatchery in order to hold the China Poot fishery hostage or to simply make the Chine Poot run off limits to fishermen?
In fact, in the process of creating a pink salmon monoculture, the continued operation at TBLH actually harms sockeye based on the fact that it has damaged the carrying capacity of the Bay and kills fish by causing poor saltwater circulation and low oxygen. ADF&G Glen Hollowell states that sunny “conditions combined with low tides resulted in anoxic conditions in the lagoon, causing the death of these fish during low tide cycles.” According to Hollowell, combined with the shallow Tutka Lagoon Creek and low water flows this “significant mortality” results in large numbers decaying carcasses that can’t flush out of the Lagoon.
The sponsors of HB-52 also claim that the TBLH is worth “saving” because “Alaska’s salmon hatcheries account for the annual equivalent of nearly 5,000 jobs and $218 million in total labor income, including all direct, indirect, and induced economic impacts. A total of $600 million in annual economic output is connected to Alaska salmon hatchery production” While other hatcheries located in Alaska may contribute to these economic benefits, TBLH is not one of them.
The Solomon Gulch hatchery located in the Port of Valdez, for example, regularly obtains a 11% return from salmon smolt releases while TBHL achieves about a 2% return. Also, since 1991 when CIAA partnered with the state to operate the Hatchery has experienced a minimum loss of $9 million dollars per year. In fact, over the 30 years the hatchery has been in operation, most of the fish have been harvested by CIAA in an attempt to cover operating expenses for Tutka Hatchery, with only 11% of its returning salmon harvested by anyone other than TBLH. Despite this income, CIAA is still indebted to the state in the amount of $16 million.
Other costs of the hatchery include DNR and ADF&G administration permitting and planning teams and money borrowed by CIAA. Significantly driving up the cost of TBLH, CIAA filed multiple administrative appeals followed by lawsuits agains DNR related to its efforts to expand the hatchery further into Park waters by moving the rearing facility pens up near the head of Tutka Bay. Additionaily, it go into hot water for dumping 600,000 pounds of fish carcasses in the deep non flushing hole of the Silled Fjord. Conversely, less than 20 fishermen benefit from TBLH salmon while and most of the debt ultimately falls on the Cook Inlet commercial fishermen who have contributed almost $28 million to CIAA in Salmon Enhancement Taxes over the past 30 years.
But the real fatal flaw of HB-52 is that it not only does nothing to cure the Hatchery’s incompatibility with the State Park but it makes the Hatcheries legal problems worse. When the legislature withdrew the lands to create KBSP, for example, it designated them as special purpose sites under Article VIII, section 7 of the Alaska Constitution. This designation prohibits the executive branch from disposing of any real property interests, including granting leases and easements.
As a result, as it stands now, the hatchery constitutes an unconstitutional disposal
of legislatively designated lands and, therefore, alternate lands must be found that can be added to Kachemak State Park to replace the state park lands lost by excluding the hatchery from the Park. According to the HB 52 Sponsors, this land swap will occur as part of the Bill, by exchanging the with:
…three parcels (A-C on the map) totaling approximately 266.67 acres to KBSP in the Cottonwood-Eastland unit of the park. These parcels are contiguous with a portion of KBSP on the north side of Kachemak Bay about 17 miles northeast of Homer near East End Road. Parcel A would provide much needed road-based access to the underutilized Cottonwood Eastland unit of the park offering enhanced recreational opportunities. Parcels B and C would connect adjacent portions of KBSP harmonizing park management objectives. HB 52 – Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery – Sponsored by Rep. Vance Briefing Paper
Having visited the Cottonwood Eastland unit for snow shoeing, hiking and for its stunning views on a number of occasions, I agree that it is underutilized, needs better access, and is worth protecting. The only problem is that the parcels that would be added to the park in exchange for the TBLH lands under HB 52 are already or well on their way to being managed and protected under State Park jurisdiction.
After the Friends of Kachemak Bay State Park submitted an Interagency Land Management Agreement application to Kachemak Bay State Park and paid a $2,400 fee to cover the costs of processing the addition, for example, Parcel A referred to by the Bill sponsors, has been in the process for inclusion in the Eastland Creek/Cottonwood State Park for the past several years. Because the IMLA process will be completed whether or not HB 52 is adopted, the public does not receive anything in return by the passage of additional legislation that does the same thing.
Similarly, while Parcel B & C are being paraded around by HB 52 Sponsors as another benefit in exchange for the Hatchery lands, Parcel B already has a deed restriction designating it to be managed by State Parks. Similarly, Parcel C is already a conservation easement recorded in 1997, which delegates responsibility to DNR to manage the property as part of KBSP and includes the right of public access for ingress and egress over and through the parcel for the benefit of public.
There is a reason that so many commercial and recreational fisherman along with businesses, organizations and individual citizens including the Kachemak Bay State Park Citizen Advisory Board are vehemently opposed to HB 52. The proposed legislation is irresponsible, anti-commercial fishing, anti-community and presented with false and misleading statements that will come at huge expense and little to no benefit to commercial fisherman, the state’s economy and the general public and is a perfect example of how Alaska’s legislature has gone from a progressive approach when it attempted to protected its unique fish and wildlife resources and places like the Kachemak Bay State Parks to gutting such protections so that it can continue the motto that “Alaska is open for Business.”
Please contact your legislators:
House Resources Committee:
President of the Senate:
Ask them to vote against adoption of HB-52.