An unpopular proposal to open a salmon hatchery on Baranof Island was rejected Thursday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced, following public opposition.
The decision ended a disagreement between a Juneau businessman and the seasonal residents of Baranof Warm Springs, a small, seasonal community of about a dozen cabins at the southern tip of Baranof Island known for its numerous hot springs and scenic waterfalls.
Cabin owners are celebrating the decision, made by ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten, to bar Juneau businessman Dale Young from moving forward with the hatchery.
Jim Brennan has owned a cabin at Baranof Warm Springs since the 1950s. The hatchery there would be “way out of whack with the scenery and recreational values of the bay,” Brennan told the Empire in a Friday phone interview.
Dotted with hot springs ranging from lukewarm to piping hot, the boardwalk-connected town is a popular stopover for summertime boaters. Visiting boats number in the thousands in the summertime, Brennan said. The small community is also the headquarters for the Alaska Whale Foundation.
ADFG’s reasons for rejecting the proposal were laid out in a letter to Young dated March 29. Fishery stakeholders and public comment are given priority in the permitting process, the letter states. Opposition from commercial fishing groups, the public and the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, or NSRAA, effectively doomed the project, according to the letter.
The response from the City and Borough of Sitka, which annexed Baranof Warm Springs some time ago, and local property owners has been “overwhelmingly” against the project, the letter states.
“Due to the lack of support by the RPT (Regional Planning Team) and the regional aquaculture association, along with opposition by stakeholders and all representative commercial fishing organizations, and especially considering the comments by all of these stakeholders that the permit would not further the conservation and development of fisheries, I am denying this request for a hatchery permit for the Baranof Salmon Facility,” Cotten wrote.
Young could not be reached for comment for this article.
Brennan said a petition opposing the hatchery garnered around 1,000 signatures. Testimony at a March public hearing in Sitka skewed heavily in favor of rejecting hatchery.
The proposal had Brennan concerned for the future of wild salmon stocks in the area. Hatchery-raised salmon would “destroy” those stocks and added commercial fishing in the area would choke the bay with nets, he said.
“If it were operated as a hatchery it would create an incredible maritime blockade of the bay,” he said.
Aaron Brakel, another part-time Baranof Warm Springs resident, said a large number of spawning salmon at the hatchery would likely attract an unmanageable number of brown bears to the area, which could lead to dangerous conflict with locals.
The hatchery’s use of local water resources also concerned him. He said the amount of water the hatchery would need to draw locally might mean less for local salmon and cutthroat trout.
“The water concerns were a really big deal. You need year-round water for the hatchery,” he said.
Dale’s reputation as a poor caretaker of his existing Baranof Warm Springs properties feeds into the hatchery’s opposition, Brennan said. It’s a lesser factor than environmental concerns to Brennan, but Dale hasn’t fixed three cabins damaged by an avalanche.
The structures sit in disarray overlooking Warm Springs Bay and are in danger of sliding into the bay.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.