Hatchery kings no longer released at City Creek
November 3, 2022
The City Creek king salmon release site will close after a decision was made by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association (SSRAA).
The decision to close the release site comes as a result of a combination of factors according to sources from the two organizations.
The City Creek release site was a collaboration between Fish and Game and the SSRAA which utilized funding from the Pacific Salmon Treaty mitigation funds and saw its first release in 2014 according to Patrick Fowler, the Southeast Alaska Management Coordinator with Fish and Game.
Fowler said the hope for the release site was to support the sport fishing fleet in Petersburg by providing additional opportunity and to reduce congestion in the Wrangell Narrows terminal harvest area, but there have been some challenges operating it.
It was initially intended to have approximately 200,000 fish released there but since its opening the releases have been inconsistent.
"We've had pretty inconsistent production going into the City Creek release and part of the problem there was the difficulty of that Crystal Lake facility to get enough broodstock to facilitate all of their releases and ensure that you had enough broodstock going back into the Blind Slough Wrangell Narrows Area," Fowler said.
SSRAA Production Manager Bill Gass said the decision to close it was not monocausal but that the struggles with broodstock at Crystal Lake was probably what pushed it over the edge.
"If there was one difficulty or two, maybe we would have kept hammering away on it, but it was more than one and it wasn't just on SSRAA's side it was also with the department," Gass said.
He also listed the cost, extra effort, and limited resources as other factors impacting the release and said they hope that the closure will help them reliably reach their broodstock goals at Crystal Lake.
Fowler added that Fish and Game also supported the decision because they found that the sport fishery has not been the primary beneficiary of the release site as it was intended to be.
"What we're seeing is, in essence, most of those fish are getting caught by the commercial fishery, which kind of defeats the purpose of the release site being focused for sport fishing," Fowler said.
The City Creek release is inside the District 8 management area which has strict restrictions on where people can fish so that they avoid intercepting wild stock king salmon, but the closure of the release site will further limit areas open to fishing.
"If our king salmon regulations continue, that we have this low abundance of wild stocks and we have to close a lot of the area to retention for especially that spring season, it really focuses our effort in the hatchery areas," Fowler said.
Though it would concentrate the fleet, he said that the closure would also benefit the sport fishery by having more consistency and less concern for brood sources in Blind Slough and it could even open up funding to search for a new release site.
With the release site closing, Gass said they plan to take the fish they would have released at City Creek and release them at Crystal Lake.
"These fish are getting moved, they're not getting removed," Gass said.
"These fish are still going to exist, they're going to be in the water, people will still have a crack at them, people will still catch them-in some ways they'll have more crack at them because the Blind Slough fishery is in addition to the saltwater harvest, but the fish won't be on the Frederick Sound side."
Dan O'Neil, who operates Secret Cove Charters, said he was "totally disappointed" when he heard the release site was closing.
O'Neil said City Creek becomes his primary fishing spot after it opens on June 15 because the fish like to mingle there for a long time and stay high in quality through much of the season.
"A lot of people really don't know about City Creek," O'Neil said.
"I mean, living right here in Petersburg, they have no idea how good the fishing is out there because they're not using it as much, but it's getting more and more popular. Every year people are seeing that, hey, there's a lot of fish out there and they're beautiful fish."
He believes that Blind Slough is a great hatchery but with there soon being less areas open to fishing, he is concerned about the concentration of the fleet, which will also have to maneuver around the tugboats and ferries that pass through.
"There's already been some mishaps, but there's going to be a monster, I mean, there's going to be, you know, somebody's gonna die," O'Neil said.
"It's just a matter of time, you get that many boats in a small area like that, huge tidal area."
He also said he did not mind if some of the City Creek salmon were caught by the commercial fishery.
According to Fowler, the final smolt release in City Creek was this past spring and the last adults will return during the summer of 2025.
O'Neil said he will continue fishing at City Creek until then.
"It really means a lot to a lot of people out there to keep this thing going. I mean, it took a lot to get it going and to pull it out of there, it just doesn't seem like a good deal," O'Neil said.