A state-owned fish hatchery that contributes thousands of sockeye salmon annually to the famed Copper River salmon fishery survived recent flooding of the East Fork Gulkana River that swept millions of yards of material away. That rock and gravel are critical not only to the Gulkana Hatchery, which is leased to and managed by the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., but to the Richardson Highway, the access road to the hatchery.
Hatchery manager Gary Martinek, a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game employee who has been with the hatchery since 1980, says the hatchery will recovery, but it will be different. Meanwhile, says Martinek, it’s a matter of rolling with the punches, and getting a plan and permits in place for site restoration, to include repair of damage to the hatchery and the road.
Last week Martinek was busy working with a salmon restoration hydrologist from Washington State, who assessed the damage and is now writing a report. PWSAC officials are working with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska Department of Transportation to get permits completed and approved so the restoration work can begin.
The flooding in June came as a result of a very high snowfall, late snow in April and May, coupled with very cold temperatures that deepened snow packs, and then very warm spring temperatures that brought rapid melting.
In part because of extensive growth of willow and alder over the past two decades that have encroached on the river, the East Fork Gulkana River redirected itself, and Martinek said that one of the hydrologist’s suggestions was that the river be redirected back to its old route by removing much of the vegetation growth.
Meanwhile, Martinek said hatchery workers are moving quickly to get incubators cleaned on time for the season’s first egg take, and that he’s optimistic that the necessary work will be completed.