An unfortunate incident occurred early this week at the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery in Anchorage. Roughly 25,000 Chinook salmon smolt imprinting in one of the raceways adjacent to Ship Creek were found by a member of the public to be floating belly up. These fish were intended to be released into Ship Creek that day. While most of the fish in the raceway did out-migrate, a small number had not. The flows in Ship Creek are at an all-time high. In fact, according to records, this high-water level has not been seen since the early 1960s.
Not only is the water very high, it is also very silty, which impacts visibility. Due to low visibility, hatchery staff were unable to see if any fish remained in the raceway prior to stopping water from entering. The recent incident accounts for a roughly 4% loss in Chinook smolt release numbers in Ship Creek this year. There are over 600,000 Chinook salmon smolt stocked into Ship Creek each year. These fish out-migrate to the ocean and return as adults.
This provides opportunity for anglers to fish for Chinook salmon in the lower stretch of Ship Creek, and a determined number of adults are spawned by hatchery staff each year. These fish are all very important to anglers and hatchery staff.
The notification initially came from a concerned member of the public around 9 p.m. on Monday who saw the dead fish in the raceway. Upon contact, hatchery staff took prompt action. We are very thankful for the report. Without being notified, it is highly likely many more fish would have died.
As a result of this unfortunate scenario, further steps will be taken to make sure all smolt are out of the raceways after a release is made. We understand mistakes happen, and we regret that this incident occurred. However, we want to assure the public that this is an isolated incident, and we will do everything we can to see that something like this does not happen again.