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AFSC Historical Corner:  Traitors Cove

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rigging scow
Floating scow with seaplane pier (at left) that served as the field station at Traitors Cove.
Ted Merrell, photographer.

Following a survey of streams in Southeast Alaska in 1960, personnel from the Auke Bay Laboratory (ABL, part of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) selected Traitors Creek on northwest Revillagigedo Island, Alaska, as a site to study the early life history of the chum salmon. The stream and its estuary appeared to be almost ideal for basic chum salmon research with the only possible drawbacks being the relatively high seasonal stream discharges and its remote location. Both of these drawbacks would prove challenging and deadly in later years. Investigations at the site focused on the effects of temperature, predation, competition for food, flooding, and other environmental factors on survival and growth of salmon in freshwater.

To inaugurate studies there, the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries vessel M/V Murre II transported personnel and materials for building a weir to Marguerite Bay at the entrance of Traitors Cove during the summer of 1960. In early August 1961, the Murre II dropped off materials for a Pan Abode® prefab cabin to serve as staff living quarters. Over the next few years warehouses, a boat house plus floatplane pier, and other buildings were constructed at the field station.

  M/V Heron towing scow
The BCF vessel Heron towing the rigging scow from the cove to Betton Island in 1968.  Chet R. Mattson, photographer.

"Traitors Cove is a small fiordlike estuary in southeastern Alaska. It is divided into two basins by a narrow constriction, where a reversing tidal falls forms. Four oceanographic surveys of the estuary between 1963 and 1965 showed that this tidal falls creates a region of strong turbulence and destroys the stratification of the water near it. Surface currents in the estuary are predominantly seaward on ebb tide and toward the head of the estuary on flood tide." (McLain, 1963 *)

Access (by boat) to the field station would prove to be difficult because strong tidal currents and rocks made navigation dangerous. The inner cove leading to the station could only be entered by small craft at slack water, which is very short in duration and changes direction very suddenly. In April 1964, Richard "Dick" Rowland drowned after the 14-foot skiff he was operating got swept into the passage connecting the inner and outer bays when the tidal condition was extremely turbulent.

Later in 1964, a used cannery scow was purchased and renovated to serve as a safe floating base for biological studies. It appeared to be the most economical solution to the particularly difficult logistics problem at Traitors Cove. The scow had adequate living quarters, along with work and equipment storage space for project personnel studying salmon fry in the estuarine and marine environment. In winter, the scow was stored at Ketchikan, Alaska, near Sunny Point, and towed to Marguerite Bay of Traitors Cove each spring were it was anchored.

By 1967, Auke Bay Laboratory researchers were spray marking juvenile pink and chum salmon with fluorescent pigments to make successive population estimates to assess early sea life natural mortality, and also to determine the migration characteristics of the pink and chum salmon from Traitors Cove. The station is known to have been operating at least until 1969. Although the field station was long closed after that time, Traitors Creek once again became an active site for ABL research on chum salmon in the 1980s under the U.S. Canada transboundary Pacific salmon research program.


Additional reading:

  • Bailey, J. E., B. L. Wing, and C. R. Mattson. 1975. Zooplankton abundance and feeding habits of fry of pink salmon, Oncorhynchus gorbuscha, and chum salmon Oncorhynchus keta, in Traitors Cove, Alaska, with speculations on the carrying capacity of the area. Fishery Bulletin 73(4):846-861.
     
  • Bouchard, L. G., and C. R. Mattson. 1961. Immersion staining as a method of marking small salmon. Progressive Fish-Culturist 23(1):34-40.
     
  • Frame, George W. 1969. Some common plants of Traitors Cove, Southeast Alaska. In Manuscript Report - File 61. Idyll, C. P. 1968. The incredible salmon. National Geographic 143(2):195-219.
     
  • Mattson, Chester R., and Jack E. Bailey. 1966. Chum and pink salmon studies at Traitors Cove, September 1963 to September 1964. Manuscript Report - File 30.
     
  • Mattson, Chester R., and Jack E. Bailey. 1967. 1966 Traitors Cove field report. Manuscript Report - File 42.
     
  • Mattson, Chester R., and Jack E. Bailey. 1967. Pink and chum salmon investigation Traitors Cove estuary program, 1965. Manuscript Report - File 36.
     
  • Mattson, C. R., and J. E. Bailey. 1969. A frame for holding juvenile salmon during spray marking. Progressive Fish Culturist 31(2):118-120.
     
  • Mattson, C. R., and Richard G. Rowland. 1963. Chum salmon studies at Traitors Cove Field Station June 1960 - March 1963. Manuscript Report 63-11.
     
  • * McLain, Douglas R. 1963. Oceanographic observations at Traitors Cove. Manuscript Report 63-13.
     
  • U.S. Department Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service News Release (Flanagan) - Interior 5631, For Release June 21, 1963.
     

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