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At a Glance

'At a Glance' offers a brief summary of key findings for each of the 13 Alaska Salmon and People regions.

Dive Deeper

Select 'Dive Deeper' for an in-depth look into the patterns and processes leading to the diversity of the 13 Alaska Salmon and People regions we see today.

At a Glance: Salmon and people before and beyond the Exxon Valdez oil spill

Prince William Sound is a region of rain, icefields, and glaciers. Only two (Whittier and Valdez) of Prince William Sound’s largest human communities are connected via road. The terminus of the Alaska oil pipeline ends in this region and results in a fairly high footprint of human activity in a relatively small region. Pink salmon, chum salmon, and sockeye salmon fisheries are current mainstays of local communities with hatchery enhancement of these species (particularly pink salmon) a fundamental dynamic in the region.

Eyak names for salmon

  • te’ya’lee (king salmon)
  • tahi’id, cha’ch (sockeye salmon)
  • tiitl’ (chum salmon)
  • giyah sdilahL, kaashk’ (pink salmon)
  • ta’ay (coho salmon)
  • chi’in (salmon)
  • q’Amaa (salmon roe)
  • GAts’ (dry smoked salmon)
  • q’Amaa (female salmon)
  • qAts’LG (male salmon)
  • xaanih (old salmon)

Below are key SASAP findings for the Prince William Sound region; for the full story, click on Take a Deeper Dive

No other region of the state is as tied to hatchery enhancement as Prince William Sound.

Nearly three quarters of a billion salmon are released in this region. The majority are pink salmon, followed by chum salmon and sockeye salmon. Returning adults are integral components of the fishery; in some years the entire catch of some species can be the result of hatchery production. Concerns of negative legacy effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill remain, though recent evidence points to a stronger role of large scale changes in the ocean. For some species, potential competitive interactions with large numbers of wild and hatchery individuals are a primary determinant of salmon productivity, rather than the oil spill.

Hatchery Releases and Returns across all SASAP regions, 1970 – 2016. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Mark, Tag and Age Laboratory, Madeline Jovanovich, and Emily O’Dean. Annual salmon hatchery releases from the Hatchery Release Report Form, Alaska, 1952-2017. Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity. doi:10.5063/F12N50JP.

Prince William Sound: the epicenter of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS).

This region has experienced similar waves of change and impacts on fishing ways of life as other regions–it was also the epicenter of the disastrous 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS).

EVOS had immediate and lasting disastrous impacts on communities in and beyond the region. The subsequent damaged ecosystem resources and services generated significant losses, particularly for Alaska Natives and commercial fishermen. Overall, EVOS was more than an oil spill. Chronic ecosystem, resource, and sociocultural loss, stress, and unhealthy coping mechanisms from protracted litigation are key themes of this monumental technological disaster. In its aftermath, local citizens organized and created a regional entity to monitor oil transportation to minimize the likelihood of future spills. This community response is illustrative of an adaptation strategy.

Photo of oiled beach and protection of salmon stream.
Credit: Alaska State Archives Photo (ASA-RG348-SR612-AS17959-0127)

Salmon are the largest provider of wild foods in Prince William Sound communities, but annual programs likely underestimate harvests.

Estimates of subsistence salmon harvests in Prince William Sound vary widely. Subsistence activities in Prince William Sound were severely disrupted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill of March 1989. Local residents were concerned about oil contamination of salmon and other resources. Several years passed before subsistence harvests approached pre-spill levels (Figure 1). Based on findings from comprehensive surveys, salmon provided 40% of the harvest of wild resources in the three Prince William Sound communities outside the non-subsistence area (Chenega Bay, Tatitlek, and Whittier). Salmon made up 48% of noncommercial harvests of wild resources by residents of the Valdez Non-subsistence Area in 2014.

Figure 1. Subsistence harvests of salmon in Prince William Sound, 1977 – 2016 (Copper River Fisheries excluded). Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Subsistence. Subsistence and personal use harvest of salmon in Alaska, 1960-2012. Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity. doi:10.5063/F18P5XTN.

Governance processes through ADFG and the BOF institutions authorize hatchery releases in the region, primarily of pink and chum salmon.

The federal lands of the Chugach National Forest predominate, but state fisheries management plays the larger role. The prevention of future oil spills has been a significant factor in mobilizing residents and fishermen to participate in the creation of laws and governmental organizations to monitor oil transport through the region. The Chugach Alutiiq villagers, whose subsistence uses were drastically impacted by the oil spill, brought suit in federal court for compensatory damages to traditional cultural practices linked to subsistence activities and harvests but lost the case receiving compensation only for the food value of their losses. Between 2000-2018, PWS salmon fisheries were declared a disaster on one occasion.

Cannery Creek Hatchery, PWS. Photo: USFS

PWS salmon fisheries are the state’s eighth largest in value.

Having generated nearly a billion dollars in revenue since 1975, PWS fisheries have been the third largest in volume, and remain highly dependent on hatchery production.

The state has consistently invested in salmon enhancement in the region since the early 1980s. PWS commercial salmon fisheries stand out to be an anomaly regarding historical revenue. It’s the only region where post-2000 revenue reached historical records, increasing from a pre-2000 high of $40 million to a record $60 million in real revenue in the last decade. The distribution of revenue received by commercial harvesters in the region varied historically. Permit holders that previously resided in the rural part of the region either moved to urban parts of the state or sold their permits primarily to residents living in Cook Inlet. The figure in this section shows the disappearance of revenue received by local rural residents.

Tobias Schwoerer. Regional commercial salmon permit earnings by residency status, Alaska, 1975-2016. Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity. doi:10.5063/F1WW7FZ2.

Case Studies

Hatchery Expansion and Sustainable Wild Salmon

Cumulative annual count of pink salmon escapement and harvest in Prince William Sound, 2001 – 2015. Jeanette Clark and Robyn Thiessen-Bock. Estimate of total Alaskan salmon abundance by region, 2000-2015. Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity. doi:10.5063/F1BR8QG4.

Prince William Sound commercial salmon fisheries are highly dependent on abundance produced by the region’s hatcheries. Hatchery production in Prince William Sound dates back to 1975 and over time the number of salmon produced by the hatcheries has increased 100 fold.

Through state entities known as Regional Planning Teams, assessments are made of the need and advisability of hatchery produced salmon. With a finding of need, an organization develops a request for a specific level of hatchery production by species which is submitted to the ADF&G Commissioner, who has the authority to authorize the hatchery production proposal. The governance of hatchery production is addressed by the Sustainable Salmon Policy which requires that hatchery stocks not have adverse impacts nor damage the productivity of wild salmon stocks.

One of the characteristics of salmon, whether from hatchery enhancement or not, is the tendency of a portion of the adult population to stray from their origination sites into streams in other areas. A major study initiated by a science panel comprised by State, Federal, University, and Industry partners is in process to address the issue of straying hatchery stock and potential impacts on wild stocks but is not yet completed. In 2017, Prince William Sound hatchery produced salmon were found to be over 50% of returning salmon found in certain streams examined in Kachemak Bay and southern Cook Inlet causing concerns for some about impacts on local wild stocks. Fishermen and hatchery managers from Solomon Gulch Hatchery in Prince William Sound following approval to increase output by 20 million by ADF&G sent a proposal to the Board of Fisheries to authorize the release. The Board of Fisheries cannot revoke or significantly alter the terms of the permit but they amend permit terms related to fish and egg harvest by hatcheries, particularly if there are allocative implications of the hatchery takings. The Board of Fisheries passed the proposal for additional hatchery release. Increases in the total harvest and escapement of pink salmon in Prince William Sound can be interpreted as a signal that hatcheries are not negatively impacting wild stocks, however, escapement estimates cannot separate wild from hatchery enhancement on the spawning grounds.

A consortium of stakeholders spearheaded by the Alaska Outdoor Council and the Alaska Sportfishing Association and including other sportfishing, personal use, and Lower Cook Inlet stakeholders submitted an emergency petition in June to the Board of Fisheries to reverse their decision to authorize the additional taking. The Board of Fisheries response was that the petition did not meet the criteria for emergency and therefore would not be considered under such provisions. The Board held a hearing in Anchorage on the request for reversal on October 16. Public participation was limited to comments during a Committee of the Whole session. A substantial group of Cordova fishermen flew in for the hearing and stood in solidarity during testimony in support of maintaining the authorization. Two motions were made concerning the request for reversal and both were defeated. The authorization for the additional release of 20 million fry by the Valdez Fisheries Development Association stands.

Compensating Cultural Losses Due to Human Damage to Subsistence Salmon Resources

The impacts of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 on the fisheries and other resources of Prince William Sound are recognized as profoundly disrupting and harmful to the lives of the people of Cordova in particular but also other communities whose residents utilized the marine resources of the oiled areas for their livelihoods. For Alaskan Native village residents throughout the oil spill area, subsistence harvests for salmon and intertidal resources were reduced and the harvest, consumption, distribution and celebration events associated with subsistence activities were essentially severed for a number of years following the spill.

As one of a number of legal actions seeking compensation and damages for losses, Alaska Native villages in the oiled areas of Prince Williams Sound and Lower Cook Inlet who were no longer able to obtain subsistence resources brought a suit for damages to cultural values associated with the subsistence way of life or “non-economic subsistence claims.” In addition to identifying the centrality of “customary and traditional” subsistence activities to the fundamental essence and character of the communities, the Alaska Native villages argued that ANILCA title 8 stipulates that subsistence is “essential” to Alaska Native “existence” and distinguishes Alaska Native “cultural” uses as distinct from nonnative uses.

In 1994, Justice Holland ruled in Order 190 that Alaska Native losses could not be distinguished from those of the general public that were not eligible for compensation and that the ANILCA distinction identifying Alaska Native “cultural uses” was “of no significance.” The ruling was appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which upheld Holland’s finding noting that the Alaska Native class had failed to prove “special injury” to their communal way of life warranting compensation for non-economic losses. Further, the Ninth Circuit stated that “whatever injury they suffered …though potentially different in degree than that suffered by other Alaskans, was not different in kind” as the right to lead subsistence lifestyles is not limited to Alaska Natives. In a separate ruling concerning economic losses resulting from the oil spill, the Ninth Circuit ruled that like commercial fishermen, subsistence harvesters were entitled to make claims for the value of the resources they take from the sea noting that the spill interfered with subsistence harvesters’ ability to “lawfully and directly make use of the sea in the ordinary course of their business… that business being their very livelihoods.”  Therefore, these decisions determined that under the umbrella of maritime law encompassing cases associated with the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Alaska Natives were only entitled to the economic value of their food losses and not entitled to damages for “cultural” losses as those losses were different only in “degree” and not “kind” for nonnative subsistence users.


Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission (CFEC) 2017. Data request: permanent permit holdings in Alaskan communities for limited salmon fisheries.

Fall, James A.  Lee Stratton, Philippa Coiley, Louis Brown, Charles J. Utermohle, and Gretchen Jennings. 1996.  Subsistence Harvests and Uses in Chenega Bay and Tatitlek in the Year following the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Subsistence Technical Paper No. 199.  Juneau.

Fall, James A. et al.  2018. Alaska subsistence and personal use salmon fisheries 2015 annual report.  Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Subsistence Technical Paper No. 440. Anchorage.

Fall, James A., Rita Miraglia, William Simeone, Charles J. Utermohle, and Robert J. Wolfe.  2001. Long-Term Consequences of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill for Coastal Communities of Southcentral Alaska.  Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Subsistence Technical Paper No. 264. Anchorage.

Field, L. Jay, James A. Fall, Thomas S. Nighswander, Nancy Peacock, and Usha Varanasi, editors. 1999. Evaluating and communicating subsistence Seafood Safety in a Cross-Cultural Context: Lessons Learned from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.  Pensacola, FL: Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC).

Gho, M. (2014b). CFEC Permit Holdings and Estimates of Gross Earnings in the Prince William Sound Salmon Fisheries, 1975-2013. Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Gho, M. and Farrington, C. 2017. Changes in the distribution of Alaska’s commercial fisheries entry permits, 1975-2016. Juneau, Alaska: Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.

Gill, D. A., Ritchie, L. A., & Picou, J. S. (2016). Sociocultural and psychosocial impacts of the Exxon Valdez oil spill: Twenty-four years of research in Cordova, Alaska. The Extractive Industries and Society, 3(4), 1105–1116.

Himes-Cornell, A., K. Hoelting, C. Maguire, L. Munger-Little, J. Lee, J. Fisk, R. Felthoven, C. Geller, and P. 2013. Community profiles for North Pacific fisheries – Alaska. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS-AFSC-259, Volume 1, 70 p.

Holen, D. (2014). Fishing for community and culture: the value of fisheries in rural Alaska. Polar Record, 50(255), 403–413.

Holen, D., Fall, J. A., & La Vine, R. (2011). Customary and Traditional Use Worksheet: Salmon, Copper River District, Prince William Sound Management Area (Special Publication No. BOF 2011-06) (p. 46). Anchorage, Alaska: Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Lang, D. W. (2010). A Survey of Sport Fish Use on the Copper River Delta, Alaska (General Technical Report No. PNW-GTR-814) (p. 56). Portland, Oregon: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. Retrieved from

Miraglia, R. A. (2012). Did I Hear That Right? One Anthropologist’s Reaction to Colleague’s Testimony in a Court Case Involving Alaska Native Aboriginal Hunting and Fishing Rights on the Outer Continental Shelf. Indigenous Policy Journal, 22(4). Retrieved from

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