Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
Alaska Hatcheries and Fisheries Centers
As families are beginning to plan out their long summer days, staff at our two Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Sport Fish hatcheries are gearing up for an exciting summer filled with activities such as rearing fish, stocking fish in area lakes, and educating the public about fish hatchery operations. In fact, as you’re reading this article, fish culturists from the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery in Anchorage and the Ruth Burnett Sport Fish Hatchery in Fairbanks are probably stocking hundreds, or maybe even thousands of fish into a lake near you, hoping that you will head out with your fishing rods and catch them! Culturists that are not out stocking are at the hatcheries making sure fish in house are healthy and comfortable. Our education staff are walking through the public Fishery Center spaces, interacting with visitors who want to learn more about fish hatchery operations, fish biology and ecology, and sport fishing in Alaska. Visitors to these two hatcheries will find a wealth of different attractions that appeal to all family members and best of all, they’re free!
Both of our sport fish hatcheries are state-of-the-art, using technology that is far from the typical fish hatchery that you may have seen in the Lower 48. To efficiently rear fish, we need our water to be warmer than the temperatures we see after the water is pumped from the ground. What that means is, we must heat our water! And, if you’re from Alaska, you know that energy costs are high, so it’s not cost effective to only use the water once, meaning we recirculate up to 95 percent of our water on the main production floors to reduce costs.
Recirculating water brings numerous challenges – especially when it comes to ensuring the highest standards of water quality to support rearing millions of fish. To keep our fish healthy, hatchery staff have established very tight biosecurity protocols to ensure that no pathogens enter our hatchery spaces that could wipe out entire tanks of fish. Because of these water quality challenges, we cannot allow the public to walk among the rearing tanks on the hatchery production floor, in both Anchorage and Fairbanks. Although you can’t get “up close and personal” with the rearing areas, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other fantastic draws to both facilities!
Nestled in close to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on Reeve Boulevard, and close to the bustling downtown area of Anchorage, the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery produces over four million fish per year to enhance Southcentral Alaska’s sport fisheries. Five different species of fish are produced at the facility and are released in differing life stages. Rainbow trout, Chinook salmon, Arctic grayling and Arctic char are raised to a catchable size (7-12”) before their release, although some fingerling (1-2”) rainbow trout and Arctic graying are also released into local lakes. Catchables, also coined “frying pan fish” by some culturists, are the perfect size to throw right in the frying pan (with some butter, salt, and pepper – YUM!). Coho and Chinook salmon are released as smolt into varying freshwater streams and saltwater estuaries. These salmon smolt quickly imprint on whichever water body they are released, and then travel out to sea to feed with wild salmon in the Gulf of Alaska and beyond. One to five years later, these salmon return as adults to the waters where they were released. Throughout their life at sea they are available for anglers to catch, making for many great fishing opportunities.
Within the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery lies the Ship Creek Fisheries Center, a public visitor corridor that is open daily from 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. There is no admission charge to visit this state-owned facility. Operations at the hatchery and Fisheries Center are wholly funded by the sale of Alaska sport fishing licenses and matched by federal Dingell-Johnson/ Wallop-Breaux funds, derived from federal excise taxes on selected sport fishing tackle and equipment, and fuel taxes attributed to boats and small engines.
During the summer of 2018, staff will be providing public guided tours on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. from June-August. Each tour lasts about an hour. However, all are welcome to take self-guided tours during our hours of operation any day of the year.
One of the greatest assets of this facility is its year-round fish viewing both inside the facility and, during summer months, outside along the footpath. From July through September, returning salmon fill Ship Creek, which abuts the footpath, where they are bound by an impassible waterfall. Here, you have the unique opportunity to hopefully see all five species of Pacific salmon: Chinook and coho salmon returning to the hatchery to spawn, and some local pink, chum, and sockeye salmon. Once you have enjoyed viewing both wild and hatchery-produced salmon outdoors, you can move indoors to see inside the hatchery itself.
The second-floor Ship Creek Fisheries Center provides a panoramic view of the hatchery production floor located on the first floor. This upstairs fisheries center is handicapped accessible, with elevators located in both entrances. Upstairs, you will find a multitude of educational displays that will engage different learning types. Striking art pieces line the walls that depict salmon life history, hatchery operations, and various types of fishing tackle. Instructional panels teach you about the history of sport fish hatcheries in Alaska, fisheries management, research, and the many components required for successful fisheries enhancement. On the televisions, you get a behind-stage view of hatchery operations such as egg-take procedures and fish stocking. If the art, panels, and videos are not engaging enough, you can see millions of fish located in the tanks below, and the multitude of advanced technologies required in keeping these fish alive and healthy. Fish range from large rainbow trout and Arctic char broodstock, which are 20-24” in length, to small salmon and trout fingerlings fresh out of the incubation trays. We encourage everyone to stop by and check out this fantastic facility. And, if you’re traveling to Fairbanks, you can also visit our sister facility, which has its own unique features.
Located on Wilbur Street near the Carlson Center, the smaller Ruth Burnett Sport Fish Hatchery produces about 414,000 fish per year to enhance Interior Alaska’s sport fisheries. In Fairbanks we rear five different species of fish at the hatchery: Chinook and coho salmon, Arctic char, Arctic grayling, and rainbow trout. These five species are raised to catchable and fingerling sizes and then released into over 120 different landlocked lakes around Fairbanks, Nenana, Delta and Glennallen. Within the Ruth Burnett Sport Fish Hatchery, the Tanana Valley Fisheries Center allows you to get up close and personal with these different fish.
Like the Ship Creek Fisheries Center, the Tanana Valley Fisheries Center is a free public facility. The hatchery and Fisheries Center’s operations are funded by the sale of Alaska sport fishing licenses and matched by Dingell-Johnson/Wallop-Breaux federal funds. It is open to the public Tuesdays through Fridays from noon-5pm and on Saturdays from 10am-5pm. No public tours are provided, but everyone is welcome to tour through the Fisheries Center where we’ll have staff available in the summer months to answer any questions you might have.
Differing from the Ship Creek Fisheries Center, the Tanana Valley Fisheries Center is located on the same floor level as the hatchery production floor. Therefore, only a small portion of the hatchery floor is viewable in the public space. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to see fish! In the center of the fisheries center lies a 5,000-gallon walk-around aquarium filled with hatchery raised trout and salmon, as well as other native fish collected from area waters. Aside from enjoying the aquarium, you can also walk through a to-scale replica of Alaska’s first sport fish hatchery built near Birch Lake. The Birch Lake Hatchery, located near Delta Junction, was constructed in 1952 and reared rainbow trout from eyed-eggs that were brought up from the lower 48. Rainbow trout fry were then transported throughout the Interior in a stocking truck and backpacked in to lakes. Outside the Birch Lake replica, you can see an old stocking truck tank that was used to carry these rainbow trout. Interpretive panels teach you about the history of sport fish hatcheries in Alaska, fisheries management, and fish life history. On the televisions, you can watch historical fish stocking videos from the Birch Lake hatchery days, as well as more recent hatchery production films. You will also leave with a wealth of information about local fishing spots and regulations.
New Developments- Coming Summer 2018!
Development of new educational materials continues in both Fisheries Centers. This summer, the Tanana Valley Fisheries Center will receive 10 fiberglass fish mounts, including: Arctic grayling, Arctic char, Chinook salmon, coho salmon, chum salmon, sockeye salmon, lake trout, burbot, whitefish and rainbow trout. Aside from receiving fiberglass fish mounts, the staff in the Ruth Burnett Sport Fish Hatchery, in collaboration with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, have developed a virtual “behind the scenes” walk-through of the hatchery so you can “see” the rest of the facility beyond the viewing windows. New and updated interpretive panels, new art pieces, and videos will be hitting the floor over the coming months as well.
The Ship Creek Fisheries Center in Anchorage will receive 13 fiberglass fish mounts, including: Arctic grayling, Arctic char, Dolly Varden, Chinook salmon, coho salmon, chum salmon, pink salmon, sockeye salmon, lake trout, burbot, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, and steelhead trout. The Fisheries Center will be changing, almost by the week this summer! New interpretive panels will be developed along with new video exhibits, and more art!
Both of our hatcheries will once again be rearing Arctic grayling this year! The Arctic grayling program was suspended in 2015 as a cost saving measure to reduce hatchery expenditures. This last year, hatchery staff in Fairbanks were able to take eggs from Arctic grayling in the Chena River, and are currently rearing them to a catchable size in the Ruth Burnett Sport Fish Hatchery. Soon, Arctic grayling will be rearing in the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery as well! We’re excited to once again provide these amazing fish for sport anglers to pursue.
We hope these long summer days lead you and your fishing rod to many different stocked lakes wherever you may be. We remind you that the Department of Fish and Game is here as a resource to answer any questions you may have about fishing locations, gear, or regulations!
We invite you to follow us on social media! The Ship Creek Fisheries Center now has its own Facebook page. Find us at ADF&G-Ship Creek Fisheries Center. Stocking updates for the Fairbanks area and local fishing information for the Interior can be found at their Facebook page at ADF&G-Sport Fishing Interior Alaska. And, if you catch some awesome fish and make great memories, share them with us on our Instagram page @wefishak, and don’t forget to share your fishing pictures using the hashtag #wefishak.
If these long days don’t lead you to either the Ship Creek or Tanana Valley Fisheries Centers, summer will inevitably come to an end and winter will begin to take its long cold grasp. On those days that you’re longing for a summer fishing trip, we encourage you to get out of the house and come visit our Fisheries Centers. You never know, maybe your summer fishing memories will be showcased on our bragging boards. Happy fishing!
Molly McCarthy is the Ship Creek Fisheries Center Supervisor for the Division of Sport Fish, based in Anchorage, Alaska.
Subscribe to be notified about new issues
Receive a monthly notice about new issues and articles.