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An Economic Anchor: How Alaska Hatcheries Impact Our State

Explore how Alaska salmon hatcheries boost the economy by supporting fishermen and regional economies in a report from McKinley Research Group.

by | April 19, 2024

Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery
An aerial view of Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery. CIAA

A recently released McKinley Research Group report shows how Alaska’s hatcheries have pumped money into our state’s economy. 

Key findings show how Alaska’s hatcheries have played a vital role in Alaska by bolstering commercial fishing, especially in the chum and pink salmon fisheries. It highlights annual average outputs, such as hundreds of millions of dollars in wholesale value and tax revenues. The report showcases how Alaska hatchery operations and regional economies are intertwined.

A snapshot of Alaska hatcheries

In the early 1970s, facing declining salmon numbers, Alaska took decisive steps to rejuvenate its salmon fisheries. This included the introduction of limited entry fishing permits, the development of salmon hatcheries, and, notably in 1974, the authorization for Private Nonprofit Corporations (PNPs) to manage these hatcheries. This move aimed to boost salmon stocks through sustainable practices.

By 2024, Alaska boasted a robust network of 26 hatcheries operated by eight PNPs, alongside four additional hatcheries including state-run sport fish hatcheries in Anchorage and Fairbanks, a federal research facility, and a tribally-owned hatchery by the Metlakatla Indian Community. 

This diverse array of hatcheries underscores Alaska’s comprehensive approach to fishery enhancement, blending private initiative with public and tribal resources to support the state’s fishing industry.

High-level overview

The McKinley report compiles and averages statewide data between 2018 and 2023 across several key indicators specifically attributed to Alaska hatchery operations. 

The report focuses on ex-vessel value, which refers to the total value of fishery products (like salmon) as they are landed at the dock, before being processed. Over five years, the average ex-vessel value was $102 million ex-vessel value, or 16% of the total harvest. 

Ex-vessel value was 20% in 2018, dropped to around 14% during the COVID-19 pandemic, and returned to 20% in 2023.

Here is a high-level breakdown of other indicators:

  • 4,200 jobs
  • 14,000 people earning income from hatchery salmon
  • $3 million in business tax revenue
  • $219 million in labor income
  • $576 million total economic output
  • 162,000-plus salmon catch in sport, personal use, and subsistence fisheries
  • $346 million first wholesale value, or 21% of the total statewide salmon wholesale value.

Going deeper

The report also separated hatchery impacts by species, gear type, and region:

  • Species: Chum and pink salmon accounted for the most hatchery production. These two species made up 47% and 36% of hatchery-generated common property ex-vessel value, respectively, followed by sockeye at 10%, silvers at 5%, and kings at 2%.
  • Gear types: Seiners collected the lion’s share of ex-vessel value at 63% of their total harvest attributed to hatchery salmon. Gillnetters collected 30% and trollers collected 7%.
  • Regional impacts were led by Prince William Sound PNP hatcheries, with $51 million in average harvest value. This is followed by $42 million in Southeast, $8 million in Kodiak, and around $600,000 in Cook Inlet. Contribution to the total salmon harvest was PWS: 53%, Southeast: 3%, Kodiak: 17%, and Cook Inlet: 3%.
  • Cost recovery. While this number is not included in the overall impact report, McKinley Research estimated income to harvesters at between $1 million and $3 million annually.
Sockeye salmon transfer
A vessel in Homer with sockeye smolt that were raised at Trail Lakes Hatchery. These smolt were transferred to Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery net pens for short-term rearing before being released to the ocean. Aly Crocker, CIAA

Economic impact

The report detailed the economic impact of hatchery harvests, including permit holders, hires, and multiplier effects. Here’s a summary:

  • Commercial Impact: Statewide, around 7,500 fishermen, encompassing permit holders and crew, derive part of their income from the harvest of hatchery-produced salmon. Notably, about 950 annualized commercial fishing jobs are linked to salmon from private non-profit hatcheries.
  • Economic Multipliers: Hatcheries contribute significantly to the local economy beyond direct employment, creating thousands of support sector jobs as hatchery-generated revenue circulates through Alaska’s economy.
  • Employment: The broad employment impact of hatcheries spans hundreds of jobs in seafood processing, hatchery operations, and charter fishing, illustrating their role as key economic drivers.
  • Total Jobs and Income: Hatcheries account for approximately 4,200 annualized jobs across all sectors, considering all multiplier effects, with a total of $219 million in annual labor income attributed to the industry.
Seward Silver Salmon Derby
The Seward Silver Salmon Derby is one of many annual sport fishing events served by salmon aquaculture. CIAA

Sport, Personal Use, and Subsistence

The report spotlighted the impact of hatchery salmon on non-commercial uses, such as angling and dipnetting, notably:

  • Alaskan Food Source: Salmon hatcheries not only provide sustenance to Alaskans but also attract revenue through visitors drawn by sport fishing opportunities. Supported by hatchery-raised fish, state-wide salmon derbies primarily feature coho.
  • Cook Inlet Boost: Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association PNP hatcheries raise sockeye salmon for Resurrection Bay—a region historically scant in sockeye—which now draws sport fishermen. Additionally, hatchery-produced coho salmon boost sport fishing in the area.
  • Harvest Estimates: Annually, sport, personal use, and subsistence fisheries capture at least 162,000 hatchery salmon. This figure is likely an underestimation due to limited sampling and the minimal tagging of coho salmon.
  • Kodiak Enhancements: Kodiak hatcheries enhance noncommercial fishing opportunities along the Kodiak road system by stocking sockeye, coho, king salmon, and rainbow trout.
  • Prince William Sound Production: The two Prince William Sound-based PNP hatchery associations produce coho, sockeye, and pink salmon caught by noncommercial users. Hatchery-produced coho substantially support charter operations in the sound, with the village of Tatitlek’s coho subsistence fishing and Copper River’s subsistence and personal use fisheries for sockeye also benefiting.
  • Southeast Support: The four Southeast hatchery organizations release millions of coho, king, chum, and sockeye salmon annually, bolstering noncommercial harvests. Significant enhancements include personal use of sockeye and various sport fishing catches such as chum, king, and coho.

See For Yourself

Alaska’s hatchery system plays a crucial role in sustaining the state’s rich fishing traditions and supporting its economy. 

Through innovative management by Private Nonprofit Corporations and cooperation with state, federal, and tribal entities, these hatcheries help ensure the health and abundance of Alaska’s salmon populations. 

To truly appreciate the scale and impact of these operations, consider taking a closer look. Visit the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association website to learn more about hatchery operations and schedule a tour at one of their facilities. It’s a unique opportunity to see firsthand how Alaska’s hatcheries contribute to both the environment and the community.

Call To Action

Schedule a tour for yourself or a group by visiting the hatcheries page on the CIAA website.

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