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Anchorage hatchery’s egg take sparks a new life cycle for king salmon

  • Author: Emily Mesner
  • Updated: September 17, 2020
  • Published July 26, 2020

Fish Culturist I Scott Cunfer takes fertilized king salmon eggs and adds them to a tray containing Ovadine, a fish egg disinfectant, where the eggs stay for incubation at the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery in Anchorage on Thursday. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

Fish culturists at an Alaska Department of Fish and Game hatchery collected eggs from spawning king salmon in Anchorage this week to support fish stocking programs at locations across Southcentral Alaska.

“We just hope that there’s good survival,” fish culturist Greg Carpenter said.

During a typical egg take at the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery, located on Ship Creek in Anchorage, visitors would gather and watch the process, fisheries center supervisor Molly McCarthy-Cunfer said. This year, to avoid the formation of large groups and allow for social distancing, the hatchery didn’t promote the event.

Aside from a quieter audience, with just a few visitors trickling in and out, it was business as usual for the egg take that commenced on Wednesday and Thursday.

Each employee had their assignment and worked proficiently, gathering salmon, eggs and sperm, recording measurements and taking samples. Nearly 5,900 eggs were collected on average per female salmon on Wednesday. Pieces of kidney were collected from the female king salmon for bacterial kidney disease family tracking, Carpenter said.

The otoliths (fish ear bones) were also collected from both the males and females. Those bones can be ground down and read through a microscope to tell the age of a fish, similar to the way tree rings can determine age.

On Thursday, brightly colored orange eggs spilled into a bucket that was quickly carried inside the hatchery for the eggs to be fertilized. Fertilization occurs in roughly one minute, after a light saline solution mixed with water gets added to a bucket containing eggs and milt, sperm from the male salmon.

The eggs were then rinsed and placed in the incubation room. These early stages are the most crucial for the eggs that reach their first milestone just after Labor Day. That’s when they develop eyes, McCarthy-Cunfer said.

Fish Culturist II Andrew Garry places a king salmon that returned to Ship Creek, completing its life cycle, onto a spawning rack on Wednesday. (Emily Mesner / ADN)
Bags of king salmon kidney samples rest on a table during the king salmon egg take on Wednesday. The samples will be sent to a laboratory in Juneau to determine if any of the salmon collected had bacterial kidney disease. (Emily Mesner / ADN)
Eggs spill into a bucket from an adult female king salmon on Wednesday. (Emily Mesner / ADN)
Fish Biologist Diane Loopstra uses tweezers to remove the otolith (ear bone) from the head of a king salmon on Wednesday. The bone will be used to determine the age of the fish. (Emily Mesner / ADN)
Fish Culturist II Chuck Pratt removes eggs from an adult female King salmon, who completed its life cycle, during the king salmon egg take at the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery in Anchorage on Wednesday. The eggs will be fertilized and incubated at the hatchery and eventually become the king salmon that support the stocking program for next spring. (Emily Mesner / ADN)
Genia VanWormer, center, stands alongside her grandsons, Bryan Blackson, left, and Colin Blackson, right, as they listen to Fisheries Center Supervisor Molly McCarthy-Cunfer talk about king salmon on Wednesday. (Emily Mesner / ADN)