Recovery Fishing

HAL CPP Platinum-33-State COI

August 8, 2020 

And just like that it’s fall.  The skies are overcast and even though sunset is still late, a little before 9 PM, it feels dark.  We’ve had a good deal of rain this week and there’s a “special weather statement” for tonight through Monday morning.  Gale warnings are flying and we are expecting 7-meter (21-foot) seas off Cape Edgecumbe.

But while there has been rain every day this week, the mornings have had periods of pleasant weather, sucker holes that allowed me to take my walk and stay dry. (For those of you who don’t talk Alaska, a “sucker hole” is a patch of nice weather that lures you out for a walk or out to sea and then closes in on you, leaving you wet, or worse – SUCKER!!!)

On Friday I was taking the Sitka Sea Walk and saw a seiner, Lucy O, headed toward the Sitka Sound Science Center (the old Sheldon Jackson) hatchery on Crescent Bay.  I knew if I lingered, I could watch the seiner set her nets as part of the “recovery fishery.”

Alaska has a system of non-profit hatcheries.  Most are run by associations.  Fishermen tax themselves to keep the hatcheries producing fish for them to catch.  Some of the hatcheries are not part of an association but are non-profit all the same.  The Sitka Sound Science Center runs its hatchery as an educational tool, to train fisheries technicians, do research and show school kids how the salmon life cycle works.  It also rears fish for commercial and sports fisherman to catch.

The hatchery is allowed to catch a certain number of fish near the mouth of the hatchery each year before they hit fresh water and start to decay.  They sell these salmon to make the money to run the hatchery.  They also have the salmon carcasses from fish that swim up to the hatchery from which they harvest eggs and milt (sperm) to raise the next generation of fish.  Sometimes they can sell these carcasses, if there is a market for these decaying fish.  The last few years they’ve given them away to feed the bears at our bear rehabilitation center, the eagles at the raptor rehabilitation center, and to gardeners to feed their plants.

When I saw the Lucy O head toward the hatchery I walked the boardwalk that runs along the top of the Crescent Harbor breakwater to where the hatchery spills its outflow into Crescent Bay.  I had a ringside seat as Lucy O let out her nets, with a skiff on end of the cork line, and encircled a group of salmon waiting to run up the fish ladder to the hatchery.  As the net closed and the purse string pulled, the fish started jumping and thrashing, creating a white foam line along the edge of the purse.  Several fish jumped to freedom, clearing the corks along the top of the net. 

With the “purse” pulled up alongside Lucy O, the tender, Sea Venture, moved in to take the haul to the processor.  The whole operation took a little less than an hour and was completed before the sucker hole closed.  The agreement with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game sets the number of fish of each species the recovery fishery can take. When that is done the hatchery will open the nets at the mouth of the outflow and salmon will start climbing the fish ladder to their fate.

Below is a sequence of 30 pictures showing the process of catching a purse of salmon.

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