Alaskans have managed salmon fisheries for many generations, starting with the first weirs 3,000 years ago. In the early 1970s, the state created aquaculture areas, resulting in non-profit hatcheries such as the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA). Since then, salmon aquaculture has stabilized commercial fisheries, boosted local economies, and provided researchers with valuable data from the field. These efforts benefit both salmon and local communities alike.
CIAA is more than a collection of hatcheries. It also collects data on both juvenile and adult salmon, improves migration routes through lakes and streams, and tackles invasive plants and fish that interfere with the salmon’s life cycle. The organization also provides educational opportunities that help the public understand more about the science behind salmon and its habitat.
To understand its broad public mission, you can look at 10 specific ways CIAA has made things better for the communities that depend on sustainable salmon harvests.
1. Salmon Passages
Salmon spend most of their adult life at sea, but they return to the lakes and streams where they hatched. Natural barriers like waterfalls and fast rapids can sometimes block the trip home — as can fallen trees, beaver dams, and other obstacles.
CIAA builds structures that help adult salmon traverse the last leg of their journey. The Paint River fish ladder is allowing CIAA to establish a new run in Kamishak Bay. A maze of concrete channels allow salmon to bypass a 40-foot waterfall. CIAA also built a roughened channel at Fish Creek to assist salmon fry migrating upstream to Big Lake near Wasilla. A dam at this outlet had kept fry from getting into the lake.
2. China Poot
The China Poot dipnet fishery provides personal use fishermen access to an abundant sockeye run in Kachemak Bay near Homer. Since 1993, CIAA has raised sockeye for this fishery. Trail Lakes Hatchery then releases fry at Hazel Lake and Leisure Lake — another name for China Poot. When they return, the adult fish are hindered by a series of waterfalls. Without this program, which uses both Trail Lakes and Tutka Bay Lagoon hatcheries, this fishery would not exist.
3. Resurrection Bay
In 1998, CIAA began a sockeye salmon program at its Trail Lakes Hatchery. The hatchery releases the sockeye fry at Bear Lake near Seward and in Resurrection Bay. As a result, commercial and sports fishermen in Resurrection Bay participate in a sockeye fishery entirely provided by CIAA. In 2022, the organization expects 78,000 sockeye available for cost recovery, brood collection, and common property fishing at Resurrection Bay.
Along with sockeye, CIAA releases silver salmon at Bear Lake. These fish return for sport fishermen participating in the annual Seward Silver Salmon Derby.
4. Seasonal Employment
CIAA employs about 20 regular employees and as many as 30 seasonal workers. These jobs include hatchery managers and assistant managers, fish culturists, fisheries technicians, biologists, lab technicians, and administrators.
CIAA’s employment base contributes about $1.4 million annually to the local economy. This has secondary impacts in the housing market, as well as the goods and services industries. In addition, CIAA spends at least $250,000 annually in services, supplies, and contracts. These relationships support boat and air charters, vessel operators, researchers, welders, and others — money which also circulates throughout the region.
5. Invasive Species
Invasive plants like Elodea and reed canarygrass can clog lake and streambeds where returning adult salmon need to lay their eggs. Rotting plants can starve these freshwater habitats of oxygen and deprive hatching alevin and fry of food sources. Invasive fish like northern pike prey on juvenile salmon in Southcentral Alaska. Northern pike reduce the number of smolt that swim to sea — and return as adults for the source of the next generation and for Alaska fishermen.
CIAA engages in invasive species reduction programs such as annual surveys for Elodea. It also participate in suppression programs for northern pike along the Susitna River, on the Kenai Peninsula, and on the west side of Cook Inlet. The northern pike program alone has saved an estimated 2.25 million salmon returning to the Susitna watershed.
Partnerships are cornerstone to CIAA’s goals, recognizing that the mission of protecting and providing salmon is shared by many diverse organizations and groups. CIAA engages in joint projects with nonprofit organizations such as the Kenai Peninsula Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, Tyonek Tribal Conservation District, and the Matanuska-Susitna Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership. This allows CIAA to leverage scarce funds and resources. The organization also participates in statewide strategic planning and advocacy with groups such as United Fishermen of Alaska, the Alaska Invasive Species Partnership, and the Alaska Salmon Hatchery Alliance.
CIAA’s hatcheries are open to the public for scheduled tours. CIAA’s knowledgeable staff will help visitors gain a better understanding of how the facility works and its benefit to salmon returns. Additionally, CIAA staff conduct educational demonstrations at local events such as the Kenai River Festival. They also visit local schools to help students understand more about salmon biology, working in salmon aquaculture, and the environment.
CIAA sponsors interpretive signs and public art that remind people of the central role salmon plays in the everyday lives of Alaska coastal communities.
8. Sustainable Fisheries
Natural fisheries ebb and flow based on food supply, disease, water quality and predators. Human activity can suppress fisheries or over-harvest, as was the case during Alaska’s territorial days.
Salmon hatcheries operated by non-profit associations like CIAA provide a hedge against fluctuations in salmon returns by enhancing fisheries. By design, salmon produced in hatcheries in Alaska remain wild. Hatchery-produced salmon are intended to supplement natural production. Hatchery contributions of salmon runs can also decrease pressure on naturally-spawning populations. Additionally, CIAA carefully monitors migration at every stage of the salmon life cycle. As a result, CIAA has helped produce a more stable, consistent common property fishery.
9. Sharing Scientific Data and Reports
CIAA openly shares raw data from its hatcheries and weir counting programs. These real-time numbers help the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) open and close fisheries and set catch limits. CIAA also collaborates with other agencies such as ADF&G to create a pike management plan.
10. Boosting Salmon and Local Communities
According to a 2020 McDowell Group report on the economic impact of Alaska’s seafood industry, commercial fishing in the state employs the equivalent of nearly 38,000 full-time jobs, paying $2.1 billion and generating an average $5.6 billion a year. Commercial salmon fisheries account for more than 16,400 full-time jobs and $744 million in labor.
Closer to home, the industry provides income to 11,500 permanent and seasonal workers in Southcentral Alaska, the region served by CIAA. That’s the equivalent of 5,800 full time jobs in Southcentral Alaska. According to the report, Southcentral had 18 communities with gross earnings of more than $1 million from commercial fishing — and seven communities with gross earnings of more than $5 million.
Pink salmon represents 30% of the value of Southcentral Alaska’s commercial fishing harvest, while sockeye salmon make up 20%. CIAA manages enhancement programs for both of these species..
According to the report, every dollar commercial fishermen produce circulates eight times throughout Alaskan communities. This includes retail stores, repair shops, fuel suppliers, banks, car dealerships and other businesses that serve commercial fishermen. CIAA’s mission to provide salmon fisheries has a direct impact on the amount of cash that flows between local residents whether they fish for a living or not.
Additionally, because CIAA’s operations also provide salmon for sport and personal use fisheries, it produces additional revenue for fishing guides, charter air services, hotels and restaurants that serve the tourism industry.