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Quick action mitigates effects of Alaska flood


October 2, 2013
By Quentin Dodd

The East Fork Gulkana River Salmon Hatchery operated by the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp (PWSAC) found itself facing a potential crisis when the river went into spate and started ripping away millions of tonnes of gravel from the river’s banks.

 It threatened to inundate the main hatchery building, washed out about a third of the gravel under the egg-intake building, tore out a tool shed and outhouse, and restricted access to the hatchery complex from the Richardson Highway across the river.

 “In addition,” says hatchery manager Gary Martinek, “inflows to the river and the river itself, carried away millions of tonnes and hundreds of lineal metres of crucial spawning gravel,” including a spawning pool opposite the main facility.

 And with new egg-takes due to start, Martinek said corrective action was critical, so the staff could prepare the newly-emptied hatchery for the next set of sockeye salmon eggs.

 Of particular concern was access to the hatchery. For a day or so workers had to get to the hatchery by passing a rope from a 16-ft aluminium boat to steel pulleys attached to a stable structure on the hatchery side of the river. The employees used the rope to pull themselves, one or two at time, across 25 metres or more of a rapidly-flowing river.

 “It was basically white water it was flowing so fast,” said Martinek.         Fortunately major loss of fish and facilities were avoided, and the river was successfully redirected to its original course. Even still, Martinek estimates the hatchery lost 40,000 yards of spawning gravel right at the site, along with maybe $150,000-200,000 worth of items such as tools and materials.

 The hatchery is a public resource leased by the state to the PWASC. It is one of several hatcheries run by the corporation, contributing many thousands of salmon a year to the Copper River sockeye salmon.

– Quentin Dodd


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