King salmon need a little help to keep population numbers up in Anchorage.
That’s why fish culturists are collecting millions of eggs to ensure the salmon’s survival.
Part of Ship Creek near the William Jack Hernandez Hatchery is filled with kings that are coming home to spawn. They’re likely the first batch of hatchery fish released a few years ago.
“They come right up the fish pass as adults, so we don’t have to go into the creek to get the adults back,” explained Greg Carpenter, a fish culturist 2.
He and his team are counting on about 180 pairs to make this year’s egg take successful.
“King salmon is very important, obviously. We produce mostly king salmon here at the facility. It’s a big part of our production cycle,” said Fish Culturist 2 Tim Vangelderen.
They collect about three million eggs from mature females. The pink roe is poured into buckets and labeled for each fish.
Another integral part is collecting milt from the males.
“We want to make sure we minimize the amount of blood and water that go in with the sperm,” said technician Don Bee. “Once the sperm hit the water, they become activated. We don’t want them to be activated until they get into the bucket with the eggs.”
Carpenter also takes a sample of each female’s kidney to test for bacterial kidney disease. If a fish tests positive, all of her eggs will be thrown out because of what the disease can to do a healthy hatchery.
“Pustules on their belly, hemorrhaging, their eyes start to pop out,” he described. “It’s a disease that we don’t want to get into the hatchery to start with. Several years ago, we had an outbreak at the old Fort Richardson hatchery. We started family-tracking all of our salmon.”
The smolt that result from the egg take will be distributed to 11 sites around the Southcentral region.
This past spring, the hatchery released 370,000 smolt into Ship Creek.
Like wild salmon, they have about a two percent chance of survival. Carpenter said it’s worth it if it will keep kings coming back.
“Ship Creek in general is one of the few or maybe only urban Chinook fisheries in the United States,” Carpenter said. “Where else can you be at the Hilton and walk down and catch a king salmon?”
None of the fish go to waste once the harvest is over. The most recent batch will go to mushers to feed their dogs. Last week the salmon went to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to feed bears.