Last summer Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials released nearly 100,000 silver salmon smolt into Resurrection Bay. Those Resurrection Bay hatchery salmon, after a year feeding in the ocean, could well be big enough to win if caught by a lucky angler in this year’s 60th annual Seward Silver Salmon Derby.
This is the third summer that Resurrection Bay anglers will be catching cohos and chinooks that were raised inside the $98 million William Jack Hernandez Hatchery, a 141,000-square-foot facility that opened in June of 2011.
The life of a silver salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) is short: two years in freshwater, one year in saltwater. There is little variation to that schedule, unlike the king salmon, which can spend one to two years in freshwater and up to five years in saltwater, said Andrea Tesch, the manager at William Jack Hernandez Hatchery.
“It’s amazing how much growing cohos do in one year,” Tesch said.
As hatchery fry become smolt, they outgrow their tanks and get pumped into much larger tanks (46 feet across, 6 feet deep) where they spend a year and a half. Once their weight reaches 20 to 24 grams, Fish and Game officials transport the smolt to their final destination aboard one of its sophisticated fish trucks.
Tesch calls them “precious cargo” deliveries.
“We have two years invested in silvers by the time anglers see them,” she said.
Fish and Game has been stocking Resurrection Bay with coho smolt since 1968. The rearing program begins just outside of Seward at Bear Lake, where Fish and Game officials collect fertilized eggs from cohos that are captured at a facility operated by the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association.
The eggs are transported to the hatchery in Anchorage, where they spend the next two years. Once those two years are up, the program calls for more than 200,000 silver salmon smolt to be released into Resurrection Bay.
Last year’s release was quite a bit smaller than that due to flooding, which impacted the egg take in the Bear Lake area. As a result, only 97,600 smolt were released into Seward Lagoon last year. Those fish will be returning this year and only time will tell how the smaller smolt release will impact the 2015 silver run.
Regardless of the numbers, the fishing will be no less exciting as derby competitors vie for the big, fighting silvers for which Resurrection Bay is known.
On the bright said, Tesch said, subsequent egg takes were successful and the 279,000 silver smolt were released this year to seed a big 2016 silver salmon return.