Plans under way to restore burned Alaska hatchery

KETCHIKAN, Alaska — The operator of a state-owned salmon hatchery near Petersburg says it is moving forward with plans to rebuild the portion of the facility destroyed by fire in March.

The Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association operates the Crystal Lake Hatchery, whose fish-incubation building burned in the blaze.

The association’s operations manager, Bret Hiatt, told the Greater Ketchikan Chamber Of Commerce on Wednesday that the coho salmon release was lost in the fire and so was a large portion of king salmon, the Ketchikan Daily News reported. Losing the entire coho stock is a significant problem because the fish are a one-year class, Hiatt said.

“They come back the following year,” he said. The fish return after being raised in fresh water for 18 months.

To compensate for the loss of coho, the operator is holding some of the 2014 release for 2015, when the destroyed fish would have been released.

The king salmon lost in the fire were meant for Anita and Neets bays. The kings meant for release at Crystal Lake were in outdoor pens at the time of the fire, and they were spared, Hiatt said.

Kings are a multiyear class, returning between 3 and 5 years of age. Fish from prior years will blunt the loss, but they won’t prevent it.

The association hopes to have a simplified incubation structure completed by fall. The operator hopes to have control of the project to have full design input, Hiatt said.

“It just hasn’t been fully decided yet,” he said. The state Department of Transportation has not signed off on the project.

The previous building was fed water by pumps. The association should be able to make the replacement a gravity system that would not require pumps, lowering the costs of energy and maintenance, Hiatt said.

The building would be a metal-shell, uninsulated structure.

Hiatt, who noted that it’s too early for a cost estimate, said the expense would be borne by state insurance on the destroyed building.

Summer production at the hatchery won’t be interrupted by the fire, Hiatt said. The operator might employ a temporary structure to handle incubation.

“We will be able to take eggs from returning fish and incubate those eggs,” he said.

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