Program uses new technologies to enhance salmon runs

Posted: Monday, November 27, 2006

NOME - Three Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. biologists and a fishery technician assembled in Nome for the big day. After months of tending to their precious wards, it was time to bring thousands of chum eggs back to the Snake River.

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Fish technician Sandra Morgan had every detail prepared for the big release. Distilled water in jugs, coolers prepped with ice packs, clean plastic containers, scales, paper cups and spoons.

She also had 200,000 shiny orange fish eggs in trays waiting to be released to their birth river.

Nome's fishery program is the first organization in Alaska to use cutting edge technologies, combining mist incubators and egg planters to enhance wild salmon runs, according to The Nome Nugget.

Program development director Simon Kinneen, and biologists Charlie Lean and Wes Jones, brought trays filled with fish eggs out of the mist incubator. The apparatus resembles a good sized refrigerator and sprays clean, cool water over the eggs.

Lean said when the fish naturally lay the eggs there is a high mortality rate. Death can be due to fungus growth on the eggs, the eggs not being positioned correctly in the gravel or not being fertilized.

The end result is that, combined with other hazards such as overfishing or climate change, salmon populations can crash.

The technology for the fish enhancement program was devised by the Alaska Resource and Development Inc. Ideas for the mist incubator and egg planter are part of an effort to enhance the survival of wild salmon by preserving as much of the life cycle as possible, executive director Brian Ashton said.

Ashton said the egg planting technology was successfully used in the 1980s on sockeye salmon in the Karluk River on Kodiak Island. He invented the moist incubation technology to supplement the egg planter.

It works by pumping water through an injector pipe to create a 6-9 inch hole in the gravel. The eggs are then gently poured into the injection pipe where they are carefully deposited into the gravel.

"The objective then was to create a portable system that could easily be transported to places that do not have hatchery facilities," Ashton said.

Instead of using huge quantities of water that other incubation systems consume, Ashton devised a recirculating system that only uses 35 gallons.

All other incubation methods submerge the eggs in water and have to use harsh chemicals like formaldehyde to combat fungus growth. The mist incubator diminishes the potential for fungus growth and therefore the need for harsh chemicals altogether.

Now in production, Ashton said international demand for the system has been strong.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Jim Menard said that the department also is looking at the program to see if it could help boost fish runs in the state.

"The program includes evaluations and if they are successful, this may be an option to enhance salmon runs in times when the fish naturally crash or due to harsh winters when only few are returning to spawn," Menard said.

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