This is the last year that Alaska department of fish and game will manage a brood stock king salmon run in Pullen Creek near Skagway. The state made that announcement earlier this year. Since then, the city has formed a committee that hopes to continue the program on its own.
Fish and game cited a lack of funding and irregular broodstock as the reason for ending the 10-year Pullen Creek program.
For example, last year only six females returned to Pullen Creek. But in 2013 the pond was chock full of salmon. That year was an anomaly. In the last eight years the return of kings to Pullen Creek has averaged 137 fish.
The Pullen Project was started in the late 1990s with king salmon brood stock from the Tahini River. It’s run in conjunction with Douglas Island Pink and Chum hatchery. Eggs from returning females are harvested each year and reared in pens in Pullen Creek. They are released into the wild and return to fresh water in usually three years.
Fish and game will now quit harvesting eggs and pull the pens from Pullen. But Skagway is hoping to keep the program running.
“There is definitely an interest from many sources here in Skagway to continue enhancing the fisheries here,” says city manager Scott Hahn. He’s been working with a newly formed ad hoc committee to research options for continuing the program. Hahn describes one possibility:
“This ad hoc committee would try to form a nonprofit and move into a much more practice role to build a hatchery or find the resources to do the things we can’t contract out. We don’t know what those are. We are at the start of this process. But this nonprofit/ad hoc committee is going to have to answer those questions.”
The goal of the fish and game program was to establish a sport fishery in Taiya Inlet. That’s the main reason Hahn says the community wants to continue the program. But it’s also a good resource for the town’s primary industry – tourism.
“I think (visitors) like to see the entire salmon process because that’s the revered and often sold component of Alaska tourism. So it would be a definite benefit to that as well. People are going to want to see the fish reared and see the fish returned.”
Hahn says the city will have to eventually decide how much it wants to invest and spend each year maintaining the program.
If the program ends, kings will continue to return to Pullen Creek on their own for the next few year. But without fish and game biologists there to meet them at Pullen Pond and harvest the roe, the run will eventually peter out.