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AFSC Historical Corner:  Little Port Walter Facility - 50 yrs of fisheries research

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Early Pioneers
Research and Mgmt.
Little Port Walter Laboratory
The laboratory building at Little Port Walter.  Auke Bay Laboratory photo.

In 1917, Wakefield Fisheries established a processing facility for herring and salmon at Little Port Walter (LPW) on the inland bay near the southern tip of Baranof Island in southeastern Alaska. A young Bureau of Fisheries (BOF) scientist, George A. Rounsefell, made the first of several visits to the area in 1925 while studying herring. By 1932, Rounsefell had convinced Dr. Fred Davidson to move the Bureau's salmon research at Olive Cove on Etolia Island, Alaska, to Little Port Walter where "herring and salmon personnel could work together". Temporary field facilities were first established, including the weir cabin on Sashin Creekin 1934; still in use today (2012).

Sashin Creek weir
Sashin Creek weir, 1956.  Auke Bay Laboratories photo.

Under the direction of Sam Hutchinson, a permanent weir was built in 1939. In 1940, with a $5,000 budget, the main three-story headquarters building was constructed using bricks from the abandoned Wakefield plant. Both the weir and headquarters were built with Civilian Conservation Corps and U.S. Forest Service aid. In 1984, a new sheet metal roof purchased at a bargain price was three times the total cost of the original building. Since 1940, the station has been occupied on a year-round basis.

Research priorities at Little Port Walter have changed remarkably over the years and can be divided into roughly three time periods. During the first 35 years or so, research focused on the ecology, population dynamics, and life histories of Sashin Creek fishes, including salmon, trout, and sculpins. Initially, researchers concentrated on a variety of environmental factors affecting the freshwater survival of pink salmon. In the 1940s, scientists worked on Sashin Creek in environmental conditions that were unusually harsh, including both dry spells and flooding.

In the late 1950, however, scientists began to notice that although few adults spawned in the upper part of Sashin Creek, the area produced the most fry. This observation changed the research emphasis at Little Port Walter and began the second era of study. Researchers found that substrate type and stream gradient had an important effect on both egg production and egg and fry mortality.

Studies on pink-coho salmon interactions in Sashin Creek in the 1960s led first to classical life history work on coho salmon, then to initial salmon enhancement research in the early 1970s and the start of the third period at the station. In addition, Agency scientists conducted studies on spot shrimp in the bay at Little Port Walter during the late 1960s.

  Little Port Walter facility
LPW station, 1999.  Photo provided by William Heard (AFSC).
From the early 1970s on, the emphasis shifted towards enhancing several salmon species and increasing their numbers in the local fisheries. The State of Alaska established a major fisheries enhancement program in 1972. Since then, cooperative research on salmon enhancement technology with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, regional aquaculture associations, and private hatchery groups was a prominent part of the activities at the Little Port Walter facility. The initial enhancement research focused on coho, pink, and chum salmon. This work involved a broad range of research, including:
  • short-term fry culture
  • time and size-at-release studies on smolts
  • estuarine net-pen research
  • lake stocking of fry for smolt production
  • vaccination studies for improved ocean survival
  • development of floating raceways

Some research was also conducted with sockeye salmon, and beginning in 1976, on Chinook salmon, when about 60,000 Chinook salmon eggs from two Behm Canal stocks were transplanted to Little Port Walter. In the 1980s, Chinook research focused on the technology needed to put more Alaska fish in local fisheries to alleviate pressure on depressed coastwide stocks. Research was coordinated as a vital part of a formalized southeastern Alaska Chinook enhancement plan. Little Port Walter produced over 2 million Chinook eggs from anadromous returns in 1984 after making significant fishery contributions. About three-fourths of these eggs were utilized by other agencies. More important, however, was the considerable body of new knowledge on Chinook biology and the resulting enhancement opportunities for Alaska.

Taken in part from:  Heard, W., and S. Ignell, edited by M. Seamans. Date unknown. Fifty Years of Fisheries Research Commemorated at Little Port Walter.
                                 AFSC Quarterly Report "Items". p. 5-7.  (.pdf, 1.4 MB).

View a video of Little Port Walter's 75th anniversary celebration

Additional reading:

  • Heard, B., G. Duker, and V. Lundquist. 2009. A History of Little Port Walter Marine Station, p. 9-11. In Alaska Fisheries Science Center Quarterly Report for April, May, June 2009.  (online at AFSC website).

AFSC's Little Port Walter Marine Station web page

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