PORT ARMSTRONG HATCHERY
The Port Armstrong hatchery is set in the remote wilderness of Baranof Island, Southeast Alaska. AKI began construction of the Port Armstrong Hatchery in 1981 and collected its first pink salmon eggs in 1983. and first chum eggs in 1984. The hatchery is located along Chatham Strait, at the outlet of Jetty Creek in Port Armstrong. It is just two bays north of the traditional "King Salmon Capital of Alaska", Port Alexander, and two bays south of the National Marine Fisheries Service Little Port Walter Research station. The scientists of Little Port Walter have been pioneers in developing Alaskan salmon aquaculture techniques and a tremendous nearby resource over the years for the Port Armstrong Hatchery staff. The Port Armstrong Hatchery employs a hatchery crew of ten to twelve full and part-time employees and is directed by Hatchery Manager Ben Contag. Other staff includes an assistant manager, fish culturists, maintenance support staff, and hatchery technicians. The hatchery staff lives onsite at Port Armstrong.
Including staff family members and one particularly friendly couple as immediate neighbors, approximately eighteen people live in the village-like community of Port Armstrong. The various buildings are spread out along the beachfront, backed by steep hillsides, dense forest, lakes, open muskegs, and high mountains. There are no roads or urban utilities at the site and access is by boat or seaplane. The hatchery generates its own hydroelectric power and is served by a satellite internet system. The hatchery includes equipment specific to fish culture including pipelines and small hydropower systems, hatchery and domestic buildings, as well as common industrial and domestic machinery.
The hatchery annually collects eggs from three species of Pacific salmon; pink, chum, and coho. These eggs are hatched and raised in freshwater incubators, raceway ponds, and saltwater net pens before their release into the ocean. As adults ready to spawn, the salmon home in on their stream of birth from during the summer and early fall, passing through the fishing grounds of commercial troll and seine fishermen as well as sport fishers. From the salmon that make their way through the common property fisheries, the hatchery conducts egg takes and cost recovery harvests on the remainder of the returning adult fish.
Egg takes occur at the same time the wild salmon spawn, beginning in July and August for kings and chums, continuing in September for pinks, and wrapping up in October for cohos. Hatchery staff may spawn as many as 15,000 adult salmon in a day. A weir at the mouth of Jetty Creek funnels these fish up a fish ladder, where they swim upstream from the saltwater bay to fresh water adult holding raceways. When the female eggs are ripe, the hatchery staff captures the salmon with electro-anesthesia and takes the eggs and milt from them. The eggs are fertilized immediately and placed into the incubator boxes, where upwelling freshwater emulates natural stream incubating conditions. Over the winter, the hatchery staff tends to the eggs to keep them healthy as they hatch into alevins and settle into simulated gravel substrate to subsist from their yolk sacs.
The different salmon species emerge from the incubators one after another during the winter and are ready for short-term rearing in freshwater raceways and saltwater net pens in the bay. They are fed using commercial high-protein salmon feeds until the optimal time for release into the spring plankton blooms. From there, juveniles scatter along the shoreline to feed and grow further before heading out to sea for one to six years before returning to repeat the cycle.
The Port Armstrong Hatchery's remote location makes it a handy location to duck into while waiting for weather to pass. This is how the crew, Laura & Chuck of the S/V Lealea found themselves at Port Armstrong.
Visitors are a treat and Ben Contag, the hatchery manager, was gracious enough to give those two a VIP tour of the hatchery. They videoed the tagging and marking process that Port Armstrong still uses to this day.
If you'd like to see the full YouTube Video click on the link below!
However, please note that while the bay offers good protection from southeast storms, it is susceptible to very high winds from the northeast or southwest. The muddy bottom is notorious for dragging anchors, so please be attentive to weather conditions if you anchor there.
Each year AKI will post its annual release numbers and projected annual returns for the Port Armstrong Hatchery. The returns are simply reasonable estimates based on recent average marine survival percentages adjusted for the condition of the fish at release any unusual circumstances that may have affected other returns. Pink returns may be further adjusted in light of ADF&G forecasts of Northern SE Alaska returns.
An estimate is applied to each species for common property contribution of the returning adults on their way back to the hatchery. These percentages, developed in collaboration with ADF&G biologists, are 10% for chum salmon and 46% for pink salmon. For cohos and kings, the estimates are based on coded-wire tag recoveries and trends in previous seasons.
These forecasts and other details of hatchery production can be found in the Annual Management plan and the Annual Report, both required by ADF&G.