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Dead fry near Medvejie.
Jerrod Galanin


At Medvejie Hatchery, about 950-thousand Chinook fry were killed when a closed valve stopped water flow through a fresh-water raceway. The hatchery is managed by the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, or NSRAA.

“People spend their life and their whole career raising fish and when something like this happens, it’s like a death in the family,” said Steve Reifenstuhl, general manager of NSRAA. “This is not taken lightly, and it’s a real tragedy for everyone involved, and it affects fisheries in the future.”

NSRAA raises about 4 million Chinook at Medvejie, about half of which are in an experimental salt-water zero-check system. Zero-check refers to a fish – a Chinook in this case – that stays in the hatchery system for less than a year.

About a hundred thousand of those fish have been moved back up to freshwater raceways so far.

“We’re going to let that go for two days and make sure those fish acclimate properly and are healthy,” Reifenstuhl said. “And then, if that is successful, we’ll move up the remainder to make approximately a million fry up in the fresh water raceways, and then we’ll grow those out to one-check smolt.”

One-check smolt, or fish that have been in the hatchery system for longer than a year, have a higher rate of marine survival, he said.

NSRAA’s program has been in operation for 30 years and has never had this problem before.

In a separate incident at the Sheldon Jackson Hatchery, some 120-thousand chinook and 120-thousand coho were killed.

That’s according to Jim Seeland, vice chairman of the board for the Sitka Sound Science Center, which runs the hatchery.

Seeland said the loss occurred when the hatchery’s water intake valve became blocked.

“We have an alarm system in the head tank down there at the hatchery, and when the level drops, there’s a sensor in there that’s supposed to trip the alarm and the alarm should dial us,” he said. “It’s hooked up to a phone dialer because no one lives on the site.”

For whatever reason, the alarm sent out its warning too late on Monday morning. Staff responded within 10 minutes, but the damage had been done, Seeland said.

“I can’t bring them back to life,” he said. “You look at a catastrophe like this, and it’s not good at all, and you look at what went wrong, not to be placing blame but so that you can learn and make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s what we do. You can’t go backwards.”

Seeland says about 5-thousand fish were saved, and that the hatchery had already released millions of chum and pink salmon earlier this year.