A commercial salmon hatchery on Alaska’s East Fork Gulkana River that is a major contributor to the Copper River salmon run was hit by flood waters last week that reshaped the path of the river. Still the hatchery’s core infrastructure is intact, says Jeff Regnart, director of commercial fisheries for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Gulkana Hatchery releases some 30 million fry annually, getting 300,000 to 400,000 back, depending on the year, Regnart said. Of the fry released to nursery lakes, the survival rate is 5 percent to 20 percent, he said.
The Gulkana Hatchery, a public resource of the state of Alaska, is under a long term lease to the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., and managed by Gary Martinek, a former Fish and Game employee who has been at the hatchery for some 30 years. In 2011, the state renewed and extended PWSAC’s contract through 2030 for the Gulkana Hatchery.
Martinek said he expects that by week’s end the river should be down to its normal level, and there is potential for moving the river’s path back toward where it was before. According to a New York City consultant for PWSAC, the corporation has reached out to two permitting consultants to determine their availability to work with authorizing agencies to re-establish the river to its pre-flood location. That’s something that Martinek said will take time, considering the permitting process.
The good news is that hatchery staff completed an air drop of sockeye salmon fry into Crosswind Lake – one of three nursery lakes in the area – on the eve of the flooding. The air drop had been delayed because Crosswind Lake was iced over, but enough of a lead opened to allow for that air drop on June 9 – hours before the flooding began.
Martinek said material losses from the raging flood waters could be in the $200,00 range, but that incubators for salmon fry are intact and so is the spring water that feeds those incubators. Regnart said that he expects that the hatchery will be able to complete egg takes this year in August and September.