JUNEAU (AP) -- A federal grant is helping to ward off a virus that killed an entire year's worth of smolts at a sockeye salmon hatchery near Juneau.
The Snettisham sockeye hatchery, about 30 miles south of Juneau, is owned by the state but has been run by Douglas Island Pink and Chum since 1996.
Its fish returns are expected to greatly increase the local commercial gillnet catch in coming years.
Snettisham also helps incubate sockeye eggs for wild runs in Chilkat Lake, near Klukwan, and for wild runs shared by Canadian and American fishermen. It also stocks a popular personal-use fishery near Sweetheart Creek.
But four years ago, the hatchery lost all the smolts because of a virus, said DIPAC Executive Director Jon Carter.
Compartmentalizing the fish while they're in the hatchery is the key to reducing those kinds of losses, he said. The adult brood stock are kept apart from the rest of the hatchery, and young fish are kept in separate groups so disease is less likely to spread and only a portion of the fish stock would have to be killed if there's an outbreak.
A $1.9 million federal grant allowed the hatchery to enclose several raceways of young salmon, where fry grow to the smolt stage, and to have many separate incubator boxes for eggs and tanks for fry. Work was completed this summer.
Snettisham hatchery gets its water from an alpine lake with no fish and no virus. And the new system keeps water from each tank isolated from other tanks, said Snettisham program manager Eric Prestegard.
Workers who remove eggs from adult sockeye, in a separate building, must change their clothes and take a shower before they're allowed into the main hatchery building.
So great is the concern about passing the virus that DIPAC board members and others who toured the hatchery Friday had to rinse their boots in disinfectant as they walked from room to room. Workers sterilized the rooms with hot steam after the visitors left.
This past summer, commercial fishermen caught about 40,000 of 150,000 returning Snettisham hatchery sockeyes, out of a total commercial catch of 182,000 sockeyes in the area.
It was the first sizable return from the hatchery and the second highest catch in the area's history, said Andy McGregor, Juneau-area management biologist for commercial fisheries.
The hatchery return next summer -- the first of bigger, five-year-old fish -- could be 500,000 sockeyes, fishery managers said.
''It promises to provide good sockeye fishing when there haven 1/41t been that many opportunities in the past,'' McGregor said.
Managers are waiting to see how the larger fisheries work out before letting the hatchery increase production. At the highest permitted level, about 800,000 adult sockeyes could return each year, said Steve McGee, who oversees nonprofit hatcheries for the state.
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