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Gulkana Hatchery Prepares for Egg Take as Floodwaters Subside

 

The Gulkana Hatchery, which contributes thousands of sockeye salmon to the annual Copper River salmon run, along with a section of the Richardson Highway that accesses the hatchery, suffered heavy damage during June flooding of the East Fork Gulkana River. Photo courtesy of hatchery manager Gary Martinek.

Floodwaters that damaged the work site of fish hatchery that is a major contributor to the Copper River salmon fishery have subsided, workers there have finished cleaning incubators and are ready for the annual salmon egg take.

All the incubators are cleaned up and staff at the Gulkana Hatchery, a state owned facility leased to Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., were prepared to begin the egg take, which usually runs from the end of July to as far as the first week of October, said Mike “Doc” Dansby, a fish culturist at the hatchery.

Egg taking is a labor-intensive event that involves placement of the eggs from about 100 female and 70-75 male sockeye salmon that have returned up stream into each of 136 incubators, Dansby said July 8.

Floodwaters on the East Fork Gulkana River were still pouring over the work site of the Gulkana Hatchery in early July when Gary Martinek, the hatchery manager, brought in a salmon restoration hydrologist from Washington State to help assess the damage and write a report on what repairs were needed.

“We will recover, (but) it will be different,” Martinek said. “We lost a complete upper spring, but on other springs we gained 300 to 400 yards.” The springs are where the salmon eggs are reared in winter months.

Flooding of the East Fork Gulkana River in June came as the result of a perfect storm of events. Very high snowfall in winter months was followed by more snow in April and May, coupled with very cold temperatures that made the snow pack even deeper before warm spring weather prompted rapid melting.

The floodwaters swept away millions of yards of gravel and rock, and the bridge connecting the hatchery to the Richardson Highway, formerly on dry land, was left in water. Some 40,000 cubic yards of gravel and rock were lost at the hatchery site alone. Martinek said there was considerable damage to the hatchery and spring area, where sockeye salmon spawn, plus damage to the highway that needs to be addressed quickly.

PWSAC is working with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and state Department of Transportation to get permitting done so restoration work can begin, he said. The hydrologist suggested redirecting the river under the bridge, and that a lot of willow and alders that had grown up along the banks be cut down, because they were encroaching on the river. During high water events, the tree roots held and deflected the water to an area that didn’t have much growth, on the hatchery side of the river.

Martinek, who has worked at the hatchery since 1980, said he was optimistic about restoring the hatchery and getting the highway work done, to assure access to the hatchery itself.