The new executive director of the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association gave an overview of the organization, which operates multiple salmon hatcheries, during this week’s Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce lunch.
David Landis started his new position in December, and said he’s happy to be in a job where jeans are acceptable work clothes. He said he’s also happy to work for an organization that has a positive impact on the region’s economy.
SSRAA has been operating five hatcheries from just south of Ketchikan to the Petersburg area. Those are Whitman Lake, Deer Mountain, Neets Bay, Burnett Inlet and Crystal Lake. This year, it will add two more at Klawock River and Port Saint Nicholas. The association also has rearing and release sites at Kendrick Bay, Nakat Inlet, Anita Bay, Neck Lake and City Creek, and this year will add Carroll Inlet.
The Deer Mountain Hatchery, which is actually located within City Park next to Ketchikan Creek, was added to SSRAA’s lineup just a couple years ago, and Landis said it will specialize in chinook, or king salmon. Many will be taken to Carroll Inlet for rearing and release, but about 100,000 will be released into Ketchikan Creek.
“And they’ll be coming back, these nice big kings, in the middle of town, so that’ll be interesting for folks to see. And hopefully at some point, they’ll be able to open up a fishery there. There’s been dipnet fisheries there in the past.”
SSRAA hatcheries rear different species of Pacific salmon to the juvenile stage, and then release millions of young fish into the region’s waterways.
Landis compared the survival rates in the wild versus hatcheries. He said in nature, 90 percent of salmon eggs don’t survive, In hatcheries, 90 percent do. Landis adds that even after the eggs have hatched, SSRAA’s fish continue to have an extremely high survival rate.
That changes, of course, once the juveniles are released into nature.
“When they’re released, they have a really tough existence for the first month or so until they get way offshore. A lot of the mortality occurs at that point.”
Landis said the mortality rate is about 7 percent daily for the first 30 days after release. Those that survive come back as adults and enhance fisheries, both commercial and sport, throughout the region.
SSRAA is funded by a 3-percent tax that commercial fishermen imposed on themselves. The association employs about 35 people year-round. That bumps up to about 50 when the season becomes more active.
In response to a question from the audience, Landis noted the difference between hatchery and farmed salmon. He said hatchery salmon are coddled up to a point, but then are released to fend for themselves when they’re about the size of a human finger.
He said those that survive essentially become wild salmon.
“A farmed fish grows its entire life, all the way from an egg to a 10-pound fish inside that net pen. It doesn’t have nearly the vitality that a wild fish would have. And what we’re concerned about is the quality of the fish, it’s just not nearly the same.”
Landis also is the Ketchikan Gateway Borough mayor, but was not addressing the Chamber in that role.