January 17, 2011 by twangg
“We expect a return this year of about a hundred and eighty thousand Coho Salmon this year,” Randy, manager of the fish facility
at the head of Neck Lake
outlet stream, stated matter-of-factly. “In the next four or five years, we expect to have a return exceeding two hundred thousand Coho and eighty to ninety thousand of the smaller Sockeye Salmon returning. That’s not a bad return for a stream that had no fish returning prior to our setting up here in the mid 1990’s.”
Our group was taking time from fishing for our daily limits of these returning Cohos to tour the fish handling facility built here by the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association (SSRAA or Sarah). This facility is
located on the three quarter mile long creek that is the outlet for the nine hundred fifty acre Neck Lake. The outlet is a waterfall of sufficient height to block access upstream to the returning fish, so there was no way they could gain the spawning gravels upstream of the lake. In effect, this was a Salmon desert and no fish came up the stream. In an effort to change this and to improve the stocks of wild fish returning to this area, Sarah began a project in
1996 that was to have a profound and lasting effect of the area fishery.
The organization began by building a complex of feeding and rearing ponds in Neck Lake itself then stocking them with approximately 1.6 Million Coho fingerlings. These
young fish were reared within the pens in the lake for an extra year before their release with the thought that extra size might raise the survival rate among the fish in their four years journey to maturity and return to the Neck Lake Outlet Creek. The fingerlings were shipped here from their hatchery at Barnett Inlet on neighboring Etolin Island. The usual expected
return for native fish over the span from hatching to return is normally under four percent. The rest of them falling prey to any one of the myriad perils they face from larger fish in their spawning stream to the foraging predators of the open sea to the nets, hooks, lures and snares of the people who live along their homeward bound route. On average, of every one million eggs successfully hatched, it is expected that
less than forty thousand adult fish will return to spawn again. It is easy seen then, that a projected return such as is being witnessed at this facility of nearly twelve percent speaks well for the management of the young smolts. The vertical waterfall that is fatal to returning salmon presents no such impediment to the twenty five to thirty gram fingerling salmon… they simply fly down the falls on a flood of high water!
From the very upper end of the small outlet creek, nearly at the base of the waterfall from the lake, a fish ladder allows the returning
salmon to make their way from the creek to the processing facility built there. At the head of the ladder is a gated holding pond into which some four thousand two hundred fish are held which constitutes a full day’s run. In this pond, the carbon dioxide level is raised at the west end where the fish are removed for
processing, causing the fish to become anesthetized while still alive and swimming. The facility uses a hydraulic lift to raise the fish to a working height and workers take the salmon individually and quickly dispatch them and bleed them before immediately placing them in slush ice in a large tote bin. The daily run is calculated to fill the number of totes required to load the forty foot semi trailer that will be used to transport the iced fish to Ketchikan.
Once in Ketchikan, the fish are rapidly processed and boxed in the special fish containers developed for the express purpose of getting the fish to market in the best possible condition. After mere hours in the Ketchikan facility, the bulk of the fresh fish are loaded onto a southbound Alaska Ferry with a Seattle port of call on its itinerary. Within thirty six to forty eight hours of swimming
freely, these fish are in the markets of Seattle and Portland, OR with the name “Snow Pass Coho”. This is a truly remarkable feat when one considers all the potential problems inherent to such an operation.
The facility at Neck Lake in a single season will process and ship approximately fifty thousand Coho Salmon to the fresh markets of the Pacific Northwest… the remaining one
hundred and fifty thousand returning fish are harvested by commercial fishermen in the Northern Prince of Wales Island area, sport fishermen like our group, Indian subsistence fishermen and so forth down to the bears and eagles who fished with us daily on this little inlet stream. And… all of this is done on a three quarter mile long inlet and stream that, before 1998 had
NEVER seen a returning salmon. Remarkable!
For an overview of the SSRAA, here is their website… http://www.ssraa.org