Alaska News

Key Alaska sockeye salmon hatchery faces major work ahead

Water levels on the East Fork Gulkana River slowly returned to normal in early July, after sweeping away millions of yards of material critical to the Gulkana Hatchery and the Richardson Highway, as an evaluation of restoration needs continued.

"We will recover, (but) it will be different," said Gary Martinek, who manages the state-owned hatchery for the operator, the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. "We lost a complete upper spring, but on other springs we gained 300 to 400 yards. You just roll with the punches." Those springs are used to rear salmon eggs in winter months.

The hatchery, a public resource leased by the state to PWSAC, contributes thousands of red salmon annually to the Copper River sockeye salmon run.

Millions of yards of gravel and rock

The flooding of the East Fork Gulkana River in June was the result of a very high snowfall, late snow in April and May, coupled with very cold temperatures that made the snow packs even deeper before very warm spring weather prompted rapid melting. While the hatchery core infrastructure remained intact, millions of yards of gravel and rock were swept away and the bridge that connects the hatchery to the Richardson Highway, which was formerly on dry land, was left in water.

At the hatchery site alone, some 40,000 cubic yards of gravel and rock were lost.

Martinek said there was considerable damage to the hatchery and spring area for spawning sockeye, plus a lot of damage to the highway, damaged that if not addressed quickly would mean serious road damage, he said.

This past week Martinek was working with a salmon restoration hydrologist from Washington state, who assessed the damage and will write a report. PWSAC is working with officials from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the state Department of Transportation to get permits completed and approved so that restoration work can begin, he said.


"We need to get everyone together on this" he said. "We have a contractor ready to work, but we need to get the permits."

As of June 30, workers were getting to the hatchery by attaching a rope from a boat to steel pulleys on a steel cable anchored from the old existing bridge to a stable structure on the hatchery site and pulling themselves across a stretch of 75 to 100 feet of the river, he said.

Tree roots held

Martinek said one of the hydrologist's suggestions was that the river be redirected under the bridge, and that a lot of the willow and alders that had grown up along one riverbank over the past 20 years be cut down.

Over the past two decades there has been a lot of growth of willow and alder that have encroached on the river, so when there was a high water event, the tree roots held good and deflected the water to an area that didn't have as much growth, on the hatchery side of the river, he said.

Meanwhile, hatchery workers are two and a half weeks behind on getting incubators cleaned for the new egg take, he said.

"We are doing the best we can," he said. "What we don't know now is when these fish return (from the remaining springs), are they going to return late to the hatchery spring."

Still, Martinek said he remains optimistic that what must be done to restore the hatchery and highway will be done.

"I would not have been here since 1980 if I were not optimistic," he said.

Margaret Bauman is a Cordova Times reporter. Contact her at mbauman(at) Used with permission.