If you’ve caught a king or silver salmon in the Anchorage area, it’s very likely it started its life at the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery on Ship Creek. Every year, workers there harvest hundreds of thousands of eggs from returning salmon they fertilize by hand.
On Wednesday afternoon, workers at the hatchery were collecting coho, or silver salmon eggs from fish that had arrived back at the hatchery to spawn and die.
Hatchery manager Andrea Tesch said the success rate with hand fertilization is over 95 percent, much better than letting Mother Nature do the work. She said some of the fish are destined for places that don’t have a natural run.
“Places where there isn’t good salmon habitat, but we can create a viable sport fishery by creating smolt that we produce here at the hatchery,” Tesch explained.
After the eggs are removed from the female, sperm — called milt — is collected from the male fish. A worker mixes both together to fertilize the eggs. It only takes about a minute. The fertilized eggs are put into an incubator to wait out most of the winter.
Fish culturist Tim Van Gelderen said it will take a year and a half before the fish leave the hatchery. They will be released into Ship Creek and, in the case of silver salmon, head to the ocean where they will spend the next year. Many fish will die at sea, according to Van Gelderen, who said a 10 percent return rate is considered good.
Salmon that return to Ship Creek are usually two and a half to three years old.
Some are caught by anglers, while others are collected by hatchery workers, who will take the eggs and milt and start the cycle of life all over again.
The William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery is located on North Reeve Boulevard. It’s open to the public seven days a week for self-guided tours from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.