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New DIPAC facility a boon to fish and folk alike

Posted: August 25, 2013 - 11:01pm
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Tourists view millions of salmon fry from the elevated viewing platform in the new indoor fish run building at the Douglas Island Pink & Chum Macaulay Salmon Hatchery on Wednesday.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Tourists view millions of salmon fry from the elevated viewing platform in the new indoor fish run building at the Douglas Island Pink & Chum Macaulay Salmon Hatchery on Wednesday.

Eight huge windows illuminate four long, bright, concrete tanks where tiny fry wriggle, growing with each passing day. Visitors stroll along a skywalk and look down into the swirling masses of baby fish. Follow the walkway out of the new building at Douglas Island Pink and Chum Macaulay Hatchery and stand on the deck facing the ocean — it’s built so it feels like you’re hovering above the water, Director of Operations Rick Focht said.

The $4 million project to expand DIPAC’s facilities was finished this spring, and, as of Wednesday, three of the four new raceways held 600,000 king and coho salmon fry each. The expansion, which includes the raceway building and a warehouse, was geared toward upping Juneau’s salmon population, Focht said. DIPAC is hoping for a “noticeable increase in king and coho fishing,” he said.

The new facility will allow the hatchery to almost double its king and coho production. Before the addition, DIPAC was pumping out a little more than 1 million fish per year, Focht said. With these new raceways, the hatchery can produce almost 2 million.

The large, open building is lit solely by natural light, Focht said. It’s also unheated, and will rely on the raceways for temperature regulation during winter.

“We wanted to go green with this building,” Focht said.

An added perk of the expansion is the visual, interactive element it provides for visitors, Focht said. Before the new raceways were installed, tourists could only peek through windows onto the hatchery’s original tanks. Now, visitors will be able to come into close proximity with fish year-round and watch staff working with the fish regularly, he said.

Tourism supervisor Crystal Bourland said the new building will provide greater opportunities for education.

“It opens up a lot of dialogue for visitors who have never been to a hatchery,” she said. “It adds a lot to our tours having people be able to go over and visit the fry.”

From the vantage point of the doorway, king salmon fry are housed on the left side of the new building, coho on the right. On Friday, some king fry were distributed into the fourth new raceway. The salmon, which have been in the raceways since mid-June, are on a strict schedule of being weighed and moved.

In about a month, the salmon will be big enough to expand into DIPAC’s original raceways under the visitor center. Right now, the old tanks stand empty.

“This is the first time in 24 years there’s no fish down there,” Focht said. “It feels like a basement down there. It literally is a night and day difference” compared to the new raceway building.

DIPAC’s current fry are about one year old, Focht said. They’ll grow at the hatchery for a bit longer than another year before they migrate out to the ocean. One to four years after that, they’ll come back to spawn, Focht said.

This is the hatchery’s first major expansion since it opened in 1989, Focht said. But it’s been a long time coming.

“The idea had been at the back of our minds for many years,” he said. “Three years ago pieces started to fall into place.”

Bourland said she’s been getting positive feedback from tour companies since the new building opened in June. She thinks the coolest part of the addition is the observation deck. From that spot, visitors can spy all kinds of wildlife, she said.

“If you’re over the water when the salmon are coming back in, you can see them,” Bourland said.

Bourland also thinks the new facility will be great for the community.

“Locals will get to see these guys grow,” she said.

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com.

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