Healy Rep. proposes ‘lite’ fish hatcheries

Fairbanks’ Ruth Burnett Sport Fish Hatchery is a towering complex of tanks, tubes and growing fish.

It also carried a towering price tag. When it opened in 2012, three years late, it cost $50 million — double the budgeted cost.

Healy Republican Rep. David Talerico is now proposing a way to bolster the state’s fisheries on the cheap. On Friday, Talerico proposed House Bill 220, which would create a “fisheries enhancement permit” allowing groups or individuals to take eggs from fish, grow them into smolt, then release the hatched fish into the wild.

The permit would also allow a group or individual to “enhance habitat and augment nutrients” in state waterways to support fish.

If that sounds like a fish hatchery, it’s intentional.

“What I’m trying to do is open things up,” Talerico said. “It could be private companies, nonprofits … whoever thinks they can come up with the funding and put the fish into the river.”

With state funding to Fish and Game expected to be among the items cut in next year’s budget, Talerico wants something else to step up and fill the gap.

“It’s a tool in our toolbox to support Fish and Game’s effort,” he said.

Talerico’s district includes Fort Yukon and Tanana, Yukon River communities that have been hit by restrictions on king salmon fishing. Along the Yukon, salmon — particularly kings — are a subsistence fish, and after meager runs in the previous few years, people are at danger of going hungry. The high cost of transportation precludes easy access to manufactured food.

Talerico said he envisions the permits as something accessible to tribal organizations, even sportsmen’s associations. “Those guys know how to raise money in a hurry,” he said.

During the upcoming session, Talerico said he expects he’ll “have to talk a blue streak” to explain his plans, but he envisions it as one small way to help the state’s budget picture.

If many smaller facilities can do the work of a handful of larger facilities, “I personally think it’s helping Alaska’s budget,” he said. “If we get money invested that way, we’re helping ourselves.”

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