Steve Reifenstuhl reflects on salmon enhancement in Alaska at the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce annual banquet February 22, 2020 at the Sons of Norway Hall in Petersburg. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

The head of a regional hatchery organization in Southeast Alaska is retiring after a 40-year career with the Sitka-based non-profit.

Steve Reifenstuhl is general manager of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, also known as NSRAA. It has projects throughout the northern panhandle, including salmon releases near Kake and Thomas Bay near Petersburg.

Reifenstuhl is retiring March 15th. He was the keynote speaker at the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet February 22nd at the Sons of Norway Hall. He said he was incredibly fortunate to work for fishermen his entire career.

“There’s some out here in the audience that used to be on the board, some in the audience where their dads were on the board,” Reifenstuhl said. “There is a current NSRAA board member, at least one that I know of and it’s just been the greatest privilege of my life to be able to do that. Salt of the earth, people that work from dawn to the next dawn to make a living to bring the fish back to port and it’s just a remarkable group of people.”

Reifenstuhl highlighted some of the history of the state’s nonprofit hatcheries. He noted that fishermen agreed to tax themselves to support a portion of hatchery operations but didn’t start seeing a return on that investment for over a decade.

“When you look at this point, or this stage, it looks like of course they did this, this was an obvious thing to do, 7 to 1 benefit to cost, who wouldn’t? But they didn’t know that at the time,” Reifenstuhl said. “So I take my hat off to all those individuals that voted for this kind of program, put their faith in it and let us as the biologists work out the details and it’s been a tremendous success.”

The most recent record-setting success was a bumper crop of three-year old chum salmon that flooded into a remote release site south of Sitka in 2018. The purse seine fleet in a one-day opening at Crawfish Inlet caught over million chum salmon late that summer. The proceeds from sale of those salmon were a big economic boost for NSRAA and helped salvage an otherwise disappointing season for some fishermen.

Reifenstuhl took over as general manager of NSRAA in 2009 after a long career with the organization. Not all was in management, however – he got his start exploring remote lakes for coho rearing, according to an NSRAA newsletter. The long days of solitude in the wilderness helped condition him for his other career – as one of the state’s most successful adventure athletes.

After his retirement, Reifensthul will be succeeded as general manager by NSRAA’s current operations manager Scott Wagner.