Alaska Department of Fish and Game Sport Fish Biologist Doug Fleming approached the Petersburg City Council for approval to establish a local enhancement project that would release hatchery Chinook salmon near the mouth of City Creek.
Fleming explained that the US and Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty is making funds available to users impacted by the 15 percent reduction in the all gear quota of Chinook salmon to the Southeast Alaska fisheries.
Guidelines for this have been established to help applicants seeking those funds to propose projects that benefit users affected by the loss. This project proposes to establish a local enhancement project that would release hatchery Chinook salmon near Petersburg.
“The project proposes to establish a remote net-pen release site for Chinook salmon near the mouth of City Creek in Frederick Sound,” Fleming said. “Saltwater net-pen release projects generally increase growth, size at release, marine survival rates and subsequent returns of Chinook salmon over those raised and released in freshwater.”
According to Fleming, fish released directly from Crystal Lake Hatchery enter into Blind Slough and likely encounter high rates of predation.
“To enhance returns to our area, a four to six week period of salt water net-pen rearing will be used to improve saltwater readiness and reduce predation following release,” Fleming said. “Survival of Crystal Lake Hatchery Chinook salmon released following short-term net-pen rearing in Anita Bay, near Wrangell, has resulted in higher marine survival rates for five out of six completed brood years.”
The ADF&G will apply for available funds through a grant process with the Pacific Salmon Commission Chinook Mitigation Program to purchase needed equipment, and to secure funding to operate and evaluate a net-pen release project at City Creek.
“The marine waters at the mouth of City Creek have been identified as a potentially good location that offers a protected location from prevailing weather; an ample supply of freshwater for imprinting; sufficient depth for the net-pens across the tides and it does not conflict with any large existing wild salmon returns in the immediate vicinity,” Fleming stated. “In addition, the land use designation and City of Petersburg zoning in this area is compatible with this type of project.”
According to Fleming, in the first year of the project, just over 100,000 smolt would be saltwater net-penned, imprinted and released at City Creek. Up to 200,000 smolt of the existing 600,000 smolt produced at Crystal Lake Hatchery for release at Blind Slough could be utilized in future subsequent years, depending on the success of the project and duration of funding.
The projected goals for this project are to increase sport fishing harvest opportunities for Chinook salmon in the Petersburg area; to contribute to the existing common property fisheries for Chinook salmon throughout Southeast Alaska by increased survivals from releases made at both Crystal Lake and City Creek net-pens; enhanced access to Chinook salmon for small boat fishermen very close to Petersburg; to relieve congestion in the Wrangell Narrows/Blind Slough Terminal Harvest area and to potentially provide an additional shoreline fishing opportunity for Chinook salmon along the Petersburg roadside north of town.
“An anchor floating 40 foot by 40 foot net-pen near the mouth of City Creek for approximately one month in the spring, mid April to mid May, where Chinook smolt will rear and imprint before release at the site, will be set on an annual basis,” Fleming explained. “After release, the net-pen would be removed from the site, dismantled and stored ashore in a yet to be determined area.”
An optimistic timeline for this project, pending grant and ADF&G permit approval, could include installation and an initial release in the spring of 2013.
“The project length would ideally be a minimum of four to five years to evaluate adult returns and project success relative to fish released in Blind Slough,” Fleming stated. “Continuation of this project would be dependent on the success of the returns and available funding.”
Executive Director of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association Brian Lynch voiced his support for the project.
“We would like to lend our support to this project and encourage the City to support it,” he stated. “This is a good use of the mitigation funding and it has the potential for increasing catches in these fisheries.”
The City Council unanimously supported the project and will send a letter stating such support to the proper authorities.