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Thread: Kenai and Kasilof sockeye stocking programs

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    Default Kenai and Kasilof sockeye stocking programs

    I'm hoping to gain a little better insight into this. I know I could probably research this, but time is short, and I thought this thread might generate some good discussion. I always considered the Kenai was a wild fish river, but it finally occured to me that that's not quite true. The Kasilof on the other hand has a history of stocking for steelhead (discontinued), kings and sockeye. Here are some questions to help frame the issue:

    Why are their stocking programs for sockeye in the Kenai and Kasilof?

    Whose idea was it to start these two stocking programs?

    Who is doing the stocking, and who pays for it?

    How many fish are typically stocked in each river annually?

    What is the impact on native juvenile salmon and trout in the rivers?

    What were the historical sockeye returns to these rivers before they started the stocking program compared to the sockeye returns now?

    Isn't this contributing to the possibility of the "overescapement"?

    Is it possible this stocking is affecting the native gene pool?

    Is sockeye stocking necessary in these two rivers, or would the rivers be better off if these programs were eliminated?

    I realize you could answer some of these with a yes or no, but please go beyond that if and tell us why you think what you think.

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    Nerka can answer better than I can but here is what I know (or think I know)

    1) STOCKING: The only fish stocked in the Kenai system are some Sockeye in hidden lake, from my understanding this is a small stocking program and they are "isolated" from the Kenai native fish. Who pays for it i do not know and why they do it I do not know either.
    Kasilof: The sockeyes were stocked by the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (or something like that) which is a group of commercial fishermen. Due to a lawsuit (not sure by who) the stocking was stopped a couple years ago. The commercial fishermen claimed it was a very low percentage of the run and time will tell but this year was the first year that hardly any of the returning fish were stocked and the run seemed below normal as far as huge numbers of fish coming back, the did go over escapement (slightly) but the did not see the EO's in the terminal fishery as in years past.
    Kasilof Kings were stocked by ADF&G and that stocking was cut in half a few years ago due to the stocked fish were showing up in the Kenai and I think funding and fish availability had something to do with it as well.

    There has been a push by ADF&G on the Kasilof to keep hatchery fish vs. "native" fish, as seen by "wild weekends" and a few days a week you can keep Wild fish. Some are of the opinion that their really are not any "native" fish left in the early run on the Kasilof, only natural spawners, the genetics have been mixed over the years.

    Personally, I would love to see all wild fish in our systems but I also think that there would not be near enough fish to fill the need/demand for fish in the KP. I like the fact that pressure is spread out to different systems keeping the crowds down. I think if the smaller rivers on the KP had a July run of fish that would take people off the Kenai and give them other opportunities to catch a king in mid to late July. As it is now the Kenai (and Kasilof to a much smaller extent) are the only show in town for late kings and sockeyes. If there were kings in the Anchor, Deep Creek and Ninilcik late in July a lot of the effort could be spread out, especially on the smaller rivers where they are easily accessed from shore. Maybe a terminal beach fishery such as Seward has would be an answer to more fishing opportunity without putting hatchery fish into wild systems. I don't know, just a few thoughts.

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    Default Long answer

    Both Kenai and Kasilof sockeye salmon stocking were started by ADF&G. Back in the 70's when the runs were depressed (from natural marine conditions and low escapements) it was thought that stocking Hidden Lake and Tustumena Lake would boost sockeye production. After oil prices dropped the programs were taken over by Cook Inlet Aquacultural Association and today they pay the bills.

    Kasilof started out with proposed 20 million spring fry plants but some of us felt that the system should be studied before putting large number of fry into the system. So in 1980 a joint state research program with the federal gov was started.

    In 1985 500,000 adult fish into the system resulted in them failing to replace themselves. In addition, over 100,000 fish entered Glacier Flats Creek which turned it into an oxygen deprived system. At that time the results of the studies indicated that 20 million fry was not a good idea. The stocking level was reduced to 6 million because at that level the studies could not detect a difference in the system.

    However, that does not mean no impact just we could not detect it. Recently, the program was stopped by court order because of the wilderness act. Relative to overescapement the program was not a factor at the 6 million level. In most years stocked fish were a small percentage of the return.

    I have always felt it was not needed and that appears to be true. However, for political reasons (the State never wanted to give up options on stocking on federal lands) and the desire by some commercial fisherman to maintain stocking this program continued until a court ruled against the state and aquacultural association. Typical Kasilof production is around 800,000 sockeye naturally and can be as high as 1.8 million. The hatchery fish do not really impact those numbers to any large degree.

    Kenai is the same story. Hidden Lake is spawning limited (natural production a few thousand fish) and stocking there was thought to increase production. However, in the 80"s a large hatchery return to Hidden Lake was 100,000 fish and research was pointing out that those fish could alter the limnology of the lake and of course the hatchery fish, even though the eggs were taken from Hidden Lake, were outnumbering wild production by a significant margin. Also, the federal gov. spent thousands of dollars trying to harvest those fish before they got to the lake. It was a zoo at Hidden Creek with dip nets and habitat damage was significant.

    So stocking levels were reduced and the program continues - for what reason I am not sure except it allows stocking on federal land and some want to keep it that way. This program has nothing to do with the over-escapement debate. They do not produce enough fish to matter. Stocking levels are around 2 million spring fry I believe and the goal is to keep escapements below 30,000 adults. So maybe out of an average 3 million Kenai sockeye run they product a total of 50-100k fish total. Today Hidden Lake has an escapement of 4500 fish out of nearly 700,000. More are to come but you can see it is not significant.

    These programs are not necessary and really serve no purpose. Some would argue that when the floods hit at Kasilof that the stocking program helped keep production up. That is probably true but I do not measure a program on a 1 in 100 year flood event. There is no proof that in Kasilof production was increased. It may be that hatchery fish were just replacing wild fish but the opposite is also true - there is no proof the hatchery is not producing fish - thus the problem with the ability to pull this out with the limited resources to study the system and the precision of the data.

    Impacts on other species are probably not measureable and may be positive depending on your viewpoint. More sockeye fry in Hidden Lake are being eaten by a variety of critters. Who knows how to measure that impact. Bears are doing well along Hidden Creek, loons are on the lake, predatory fish are feeding on sockeye, and of course the negative is that the wild gene pool of Hidden Lake sockeye has been impacted - not sure which direction. Also, the concern on lake limnology are still present.

    Hope this helps answer the questions.

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    Good history lesson, but I do not believe high seas gillnets fished up to 3 miles from shore were considered "natural marine conditions". Sockeye numbers were LOW in most Alaska rivers through the early 70's due to indiscriminate high seas gillnetting. I believe this is one of the reasons the U.S. has and enforces a 200 mile ocean line around it's land.......

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    Default further discussion

    Yes there was high seas interception but also in the 70's in UCI there were very cold conditions - egg and fry survival was adversely impacted. In addition, escapement rates were low. The Kenai sockeye started out with 150,000 and Kasilof 75000. We know that those are low relative to what the systems can handle. Kenai is not 500,000 to 800,000 and Kasilof 150,000 to 250000.

    Did not mean to imply that high seas interception was not a factor.

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    Neither of these programs serves(d) any useful purpose.

    The Kenai/Kasilof sockeye stocking experience has has only revealed what history has already and REPEATEDLY demonstrated over the 175 year run of artificial fish culture. Hatcheries are absolutely useless and have no place in a healthy wild ecosystem. The PNW experience and its blind reliance on artificial propagation to conserve/recover salmon populations is the biggest crock of **** fish mangers have ever concocted. In healthy wild ecosystems like those found in Alaska, adding hatcheries to the mix is pointless. It only poses additional risks to wild populations and complicates fisheries management.

    Hatcheries serve only one purpose... to enable the resource extractors to maintain the status quo. Fishermen continue to indiscriminately impact wild stocks in their pursuit of harvestable hatchery fish, irrigators continue to drain the rivers of life-giving water, power companies continue to operate dams without regard for the impacts on wild fish, miners can continue to foul the waters with sediments and toxic tailings, and timber companies can continue to the ravage the upper watershed, destroying prime spawning and rearing habitat for wild fish. What the heck, all we need to do is churn out some more hatchery fish and everything will be OK.... WRONG!!!!

    Alaska should resist all temptations to expand artifical propagation of salmon... or at the very least avoid mixing hatchery and wild stocks within the same system. The only guarantee in such a scenario is that the wild fish populations will suffer... history is loud and clear on that point. In system after system after system throughout the PNW, the results have been the same.... further depletion of the wild stocks with hatchery fish comprising a larger and larger portion of ever dwindling returns.

    The only defensible use of hatchery fish is planting them in a system devoid of wild salmon to create a fake fishery for a harvestable fin-clipped commodity, and where ideally the harvest of the returning hatchery stock does not create fisheries that significantly impact wild stocks.

    Much better to exercise restraint and rely on good stewardship of the abundant wild resources already available than to rely on artificial propagation to mitigate for harvest and habitat abuses.
    Last edited by Brian M; 08-10-2007 at 19:13. Reason: language
    "Let every angler who loves to fish think what it would mean to him to find the fish were gone." Zane Grey
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    Default we agree Nphyscian

    I tend to agree with you fishNphysician. How do you feel about Crooked Creek where hatchery fish eggs are taken from that stock. The lower Kenai Peninsula streams are also hatchery influenced. I think you would agree those systems should not be stocked either even if it means lost harvest opportunity. Am I correct?

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    Not a big fan of the Crooked Creek program as it is currently being run. The fact remains that a completely healthy wild fish population was polluted by hatchery influences to feed a meat-market fishery which has essentially become a permanent part of the management landscape.

    The presumptive purpose of the program is to create a harvestable product, and not conservation/recovery, agreed? So be it... let's make a fin-clipped harvestable product without significantly impacting the wild return.

    If I were made Supreme Fish Czar for the day, this is how I would run it.

    1) Minimize/avoid straying of hatchery fish onto the wild spawning grounds... the creek must be racked to have 100% control of the fish passed above the weir.

    2) ZERO purposeful passage of hatchery fish beyond the weir. All hatchery fish must either be harvested in the sport fishery, collected for egg-take, used to fill proxy demands, donated to food banks/charity, or destroyed.

    3) Redefine/recalculate wild escapement goals to reflect maximum carrying capacity (CC) for Crooked Creek rather than shooting for the traditional MSY escapement.

    4) ZERO collection of wild brood stock for the hatchery until the new CC escapement can be confidently projected in-season.

    5) ZERO harvest of wild fish until the new CC escapement can be confidently projected in-season.

    6) Allocation priority for surplus wild fish would be for hatchery needs up to its egg take capacity. Surplus wilds beyond the hatchery's abilty to handle them (projected in-season) would then be allocated to the sport fishery for harvest.
    "Let every angler who loves to fish think what it would mean to him to find the fish were gone." Zane Grey
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    Default Thanks guys

    I appreciate the time you spent.

    I still wonder about the impact of millions of salmon fry that stay in a watershed for a year or so on native juvenile trout and salmon (competition for food and habitat), but I believe Nerka's statement that it would be difficult to measure.

    On the positve side, I'm sure those fry benefit predatory fish that are large enough to eat them. I dropped an underwater camera through the ice one time at Hidden Lake and was amazed at the number of 2 to 3" sockeye (I think) fingerlings I saw.

    Is it Cook Inlet Aquaculture that runs the Trail Lakes hatchery?

    It must be worthwhile for them to continue for so long. Maybe I'll give the hatchery a call if I think of it down the road to see what their ROI for that program is. If I get around to it, I'll post some info. Thanks again, everyone.

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    Its funny that the Copper River gets 100,000 stocked fish a year and gets marketed as wild alaska salmon quite succesfully.
    I choose to fly fish, not because its easy, but because its hard.

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    Nerka and Doc agree, and so do I! The hatchery/ weir system at all the peninsula streams are not good for an area where healthy wild stocks exist. Do they improve the sportfishing opportunities, yes without a doubt, is that improvement worth the impacts - not to my way of thinking.

    In addition to the specific genetic dillution doc brings up, the crooked creek weir in particular blocks the upstream migration of ALL juvenile salmon ALL year. It also puts a hardship on one of the most northern steelhead runs. At a minimum this facility should get a major redesign - the best solution would be to abandon it.

    Since this is a habitat and genetics related concern that you two agree on, and you guys have lots of energy and motivation, why not team up to work on correcting this poorly understood, poorly designed, poorly maintained, and poorly run enhancement effort?

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    Since this is a habitat and genetics related concern that you two agree on, and you guys have lots of energy and motivation, why not team up to work on correcting this poorly understood, poorly designed, poorly maintained, and poorly run enhancement effort?[/quote]


    Lorax, Doc's not a resident. Heaven forbid we let someone who cares and has the knowledge, motivation and ability to help, help.

    Actually that might be a good team. I wonder if they'd wind up like Adam Sandler and Bob Barker in the movie "Billy Madison". . . Only kidding.

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