Intentional Introductions - Stocking of Fish and Shellfish

As part of its mission, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) works to conserve naturally reproducing populations of fish and shellfish. However, ADF&G also supports pre-authorized introduction of some fish species (i.e., finfish and invertebrates such as bivalves) to areas of the state where the species is declining or was never present before. Introductions are most commonly used to: increase recreational fishing opportunities; provide important subsistence food resources; or provide alternative commercial shellfish harvest opportunities in a coastal area. Approved introductions are closely monitored and regulated.

Stocking of fish, and production of “seed” stocks in hatcheries, are carefully regulated in Alaska, and for good reason. Alaska contains extensive areas of healthy aquatic and marine habitats. These areas are highly productive, both in economic as well as ecological terms. Alaska can ill afford to have stocking or related activities spread diseases or invasive species, to native populations of fish and shellfish, or cause reductions in overall ecosystem productivity.

Fish Stocking

At its most basic, fish introductions (stocking) can be either of two types: State-sanctioned or illegal. ADF&G introduces fish grown in Alaska’s hatcheries to freshwater systems throughout the state to provide recreational fishing opportunities or to provide increased harvest opportunities. Fish stocking is strictly regulated. The transportation and possession of fish requires permits issued by the state (i.e., the department).

Should you or your child decide to deposit your ornamental fish into a nearby pond, or transfer fish from a local fishing hotspot to a neighboring lake that doesn’t have as much action, you would be in non-compliance with state regulations. These actions are prohibited by state law. Alaska laws are designed to prevent ecological damage from mingling of native fish with fish introduced from another waterbody.

Illegally introducing native or nonnative fish into state waters puts at risk our important fisheries and the habitats on which they rely. If you witness someone other than ADF&G putting fish in a lake or stream, please report it to your local ADF&G office.

Authorized Introductions

The stocking of lakes in Alaska with hatchery-reared fish was begun in the 1950s, and it has become an integral activity of the department’s Sport Fish Division. Currently nearly 300 lakes in Southeast, Southcentral and Interior Alaska are periodically stocked with more than 7 million hatchery-produced fish.

In the early years of stocking fish in Alaska, the activity included introducing species and stocks from the Pacific Northwest. It also involved transporting Alaska stocks of fish into nonnative areas with the intent to establish new populations. These types of stocking actions were acceptable management practice at the time, but they would not be allowed today.

Legal Requirements

To better protect and conserve native populations of fish and shellfish, state law specifically addresses the transport and possession of live fish. Such activities can only be conducted after receiving a permit from ADF&G. This includes movement of fish and fish products associated with hatcheries: All hatchery operations in Alaska must comply with strict regulations and procedures, so that wild fish and hatchery-produced fish do not compete to their mutual detriment for the same natural resources. All hatchery fish must meet the established ADF&G fish health and disease control regulations, policies and guidelines at the time of stocking.

Genetic Concerns

In many sites only sterile “triploid” (3-chromosome) fish are stocked. This protects the genetic integrity of wild fish populations and prevents new hybrid breeding populations from getting established. If stocking results in predation on wild fish or other adverse effects on wild stocks, such as competition for resources, the stocking is suspended.

Types of Fish Stocked in Alaska

  • Arctic char
  • Chinook salmon
  • Coho salmon
  • Arctic grayling
  • Lake trout
  • Rainbow trout

Unauthorized Introductions

People sometimes illegally transfer fish from one waterbody to another without obtaining a fish transport permit from ADF&G. Such transfers can have dramatic and damaging ecological and economic consequences – results that the transporter may not have understood or intended. As an example, illegal transfer of northern pike into waters outside their native range has reduced recreational fishing opportunities for other fish in parts of Southcentral Alaska. Northern pike are considered an invasive species in these watersheds.

Aquatic Farming

Aquatic farming is the growing of organisms in fresh or saltwater, generally for use as food. Finfish farming in Alaska is prohibited, but shellfish and aquatic plants may be grown with proper permits from ADF&G and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. Aquatic farms are found only in protected coastal waters of Southeast and Southcentral Alaska.

Aquatic farming involves moving larval animals (seed stock) from a hatchery to a receptive substrate such as a beach or subtidal area, or container suspended in the water column. The issue here is similar to the case with fish stocking: The laws are designed to prevent any adverse effects on wild populations from introducing the shellfish to be farmed.

ADF&G has established a genetic policy for Alaska, and aquatic farms in the state are closely monitored and regulated. The goal is to ensure that hybridization of farmed stock with discrete and locally adapted wild shellfish stocks does not occur.

Shellfish Grown on Aquatic Farms in Alaska

  • Blue mussels
  • Butter Clams
  • Cockles
  • Geoduck
  • Green sea urchin
  • Littleneck clams
  • Pacific oysters
  • Pacific Razor Clams
  • Pink scallops
  • Purple hinge rock scallop
  • Purple sea urchin
  • Red sea urchin
  • Sea cucumber
  • Spiny scallops

Aquatic Plants Grown on Aquatic Farms in Alaska

  • Alaria
  • Bull kelp
  • Laminaria
  • Macrocystis
  • Porphyra spp.
  • Ulva