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Cost Recovery: The Key to Sustaining Resurrection Bay’s Sockeye Salmon Runs

As sport fishers show up in Seward, let's examine how cost recovery helps make the sockeye fishery possible and clear up misconceptions.

by | June 4, 2024

Resurrection Bay sport fisherman

As sport fishers are descending upon Resurrection Bay shorelines to snag red salmon right now, we are seeing a lot of comments on social media about the cost recovery fishing boats. This is a great opportunity to share information about cost recovery fishing and help clear up some of the misconceptions out there.

What is cost recovery?

In Alaska, salmon hatcheries may harvest salmon in special harvest areas to recover funds to operate their hatcheries per regulation. For example, Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA) uses cost recovery fishing in the Bear Lake/Resurrection Bay Special Harvest Area to generate funds for the Trail Lakes Hatchery.

These funds are used to pay for the red salmon that are raised to a juvenile stage (fry or smolt) and then released in the Bear Lake system. These fish leave the system to go out to the open ocean and then return as adults in a couple of years, where they are available to cost recovery fishing. It’s a cycle that keeps the Resurrection Bay red run returning year after year.

Cost recovery fishing is not the same as a regular commercial fishing opening. If the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) fisheries managers decide to open up salmon fishing to the commercial fleet, they will do so separate from cost recovery. Information on commercial openers in the Cook Inlet Management Area are shared by ADF&G.

Are there lots of cost recovery boats fishing in special harvest areas? 

No. Currently there are two boats that are being used for cost recovery fishing in Resurrection Bay. Two is usually the number of cost recovery boats in any one of the CIAA’s special harvest areas. 

The Resurrection Bay cost recovery boats are purse seiners. They use a long net and purse up the bottom to hold the fish in a circle before hauling in the net and moving the fish to the boat’s fish hold. Then the fish are delivered to a shore-side processor or a tender at sea. 

Is there a set schedule for cost recovery boat fishing? 

Unfortunately there isn’t a set schedule. The cost recovery may occur at any time throughout the run, although some measures are voluntarily taken by Resurrection Bay cost recovery boats to minimize conflicts in the Spring Creek area in Resurrection Bay. Additionally, CIAA does not contract directly with the cost recovery fishermen. We have a contract with a processor that deals directly with these boats. 

Is there a place where we can get current harvest numbers? 

Yes, we post the cost recovery numbers as well as the fish we pass through the Bear Creek Weir here. We know that a lot of sport fishers watch these numbers to better plan for a fishing trip to Seward. Right now it’s early in the run, with nearly 7,000 red salmon as of June 4, 2024 counted between the weir and the cost recovery efforts (which is “Daily Saltwater Harvest” on this page). 

The salmon we pass through the weir go into Bear Lake to ripen up. In a few weeks our crew will collect eggs and milt from these fish to start the aquaculture salmon life cycle all over again at our Trail Lakes Hatchery. 

To fish or not to fish?

A lot of Alaskans make Seward their destination for fish for the first salmon of the year, like Vam Xeeb Vaj who will take you along with him and his friends in this video.

We know that there are people that want to be able to plan their fishing trips carefully to ensure maximum salmon yield. We can’t guarantee that a trip to Seward will result in a salmon on every fishing pole. But if you’re happy to take your chance, we bet it will be a fun time in this easy-access fishery. 

Recently ADF&G summarized that the sport harvest of Resurrection Bay red salmon ranged from 3,000 to 28,000 fish per year. The 2022 red salmon sport harvest from the shoreline was reported to be nearly 38,000 fish by ADF&G. Some years are better than others for all of us—aquaculture, sport, and commercial.

Even now, at the beginning of the run, we see lots of happy fishers on social media with their daily limits as well as those commenting that even one fish per trip makes them smile. It all depends on your perspective—if a bad day of fishing really does beat a good day at work for you, then you are guaranteed to have fun in the Resurrection Bay sockeye sport fishery. 

If your main goal is to fill your freezer fast, then this may not be fishery for you. It could happen or not. And the cost recovery boats are integral to keeping this run available for all users. 

Go deeper

 Learn more about the Resurrection Bay red salmon run and its history.

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