Article by:Gary Fandrei, Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association
After a two-year long process, the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association has taken over ownership of the Port Graham Hatchery in lower Cook Inlet, with plans to begin pink salmon operations this summer. At full production, the Association expects salmon returns to Port Graham Hatchery to generate an ex-vessel value between $2.2 and $5.6 million dollars annually. “This is a great opportunity not only for the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, but also for the community of Port Graham, and other Cook Inlet salmon users. We are excited to be the new owners of the Port Graham Hatchery and look forward to working with our neighbors in Port Graham,” said Gary Fandrei, the Association’s Executive Director.
The Port Graham Hatchery was built in 1991 and then rebuilt after a fire destroyed the building in 1998. Due to the fire and other issues, operations were inconsistent and varied over time. As a result of low returns, salmon price, and demand, the hatchery closed in 2007 and has not operated since then.
In 2010 the hatchery owner, Port Graham Hatchery Corporation, asked the Association to take over operations and ownership of the hatchery. The Association’s Board of Directors began seriously investigating future pink salmon production at the hatchery. By performing facility assessments and financial evaluations, the Association decided to pursue hatchery ownership and operation. The transfer of ownership involved many parties including the land owner of the hatchery, the Port Graham Corporation, and the Port Graham Village.
Port Graham Village Chief, Patrick Norman, reflected on the years since the hatchery and adjacent cannery burned down, “It has been many years of hard work and a fair amount of stress to get to this point where a vibrant fishery will once again return to Port Graham.”
The Association collected broodstock from Port Graham Bay in 2012 and 2013 for incubation at its Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery, also located in lower Cook Inlet. These fish are expected to start returning to Port Graham Bay this year, thereby allowing the Association to get a jumpstart on putting eggs into the facility.
During the start-up phase, the Association plans to incubate up to 84,000,000 pink salmon eggs at the facility, with a conservative estimated return of 1.7 million adult fish. At maximum capacity (125,000,000 eggs), the estimated return is 2.6 million fish. It is expected that the first significant common property harvest will take place in 2016. For the community of Port Graham, resuming operations at the hatchery not only provides increased fishing opportunities, but also an economic boost through direct employment at the hatchery and support industries including the potential reopening of the idle fish processing plant next to the hatchery.
At the signing of the documents officially transferring ownership to the Association, Walter Meganack Jr., Chairman, and Lloyd Stiassny, President of the Port Graham Corporation explained that Port Graham is historically a fishing community and this partnership revitalizes the fishing culture and economy for the next generation of shareholders and village residents. The Corporation looks forward to a long-term productive relationship with the Association.
For the Association, this is an important step in continuing to provide and protect the salmon resource for all users in the Cook Inlet Region.