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

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.

Emily Mesner

Emily Mesner is a multimedia journalist for the Anchorage Daily News. She previously worked for the National Park Service at Denali National Park and Preserve and the Western Arctic National Parklands in Kotzebue, at the Cordova Times and at the Jackson Citizen Patriot in Jackson, Michigan.