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AFSC Historical Corner:  Yes Bay / McDonald Lake Hatchery

Early Pioneers
Research and Mgmt.
Species Research
Federal Hatcheries
  - Yes Bay
  - Afognak Lake
Fisheries Management
Environmental and Ecosystem Monitoring
Yes Bay hatchery
Yes Bay salmon hatchery and rearing ponds.  Bureau of Fisheries photo, 1919.

On 1 February 1906, a Presidential Proclamation allocated approximately 55 square miles in Southeast Alaska as a Bureau of Fisheries (BOF) hatchery reserve for fish propagation. In addition to land, the site consisted of Yes River that flowed into the bay; the river's large source, Yes Lake (later becoming McDonald Lake); and a principal tributary, Walter Creek (renamed Hatchery Creek), with a falls for supplying water and power. The location was also was near established transportation and mail routes connected to Ketchikan, only 45 miles away – a town which could provide labor, lumber from its sawmill, and seagoing transport, being the town was a major port in the region.

The initial construction challenge in 1905 was that of creating a one-half mile long overland tramway connecting saltwater Back Bay with McDonald Lake. The tram, which was used throughout the life of the station, allowed supplies from the bay to be taken overland to the lake where they could be hauled by barge to the hatchery.

water-supply flume
Water-supply flume.  BOF photo, 1914.

The tram project was followed by the creation of a water system, in which an elevated wooden plank flume (or chute), over three quarters of a mile long, was built to carry 4-5 thousand gallons of water per minute from the base of the falls to the hatchery. Prior to completion of the hatchery building in early 1906, the flume served as a temporary incubator that held baskets containing 7.44 million sockeye eggs taken from a large salmon run the previous September. It quickly became obvious that the winter freezing of the water system was a significant problem – ice had to be chopped out of the flume by hand. For years, the hatchery's superintendent from 1907 to 1915, H. A. Hancock, unsuccessfully lobbied Washington D.C. to fund a pipeline, which was eventually built in 1920.

The building site for the station was selected about one quarter mile upstream from the lake. A major problem, however, was its susceptibility to flooding, which at times became both a hinderance and a threat to the eggs and fry. H. von Boyer, a BOF engineer and architect, designed the hatchery, which used troughs sized and configured similar to other U.S. Bureau hatcheries. The construction was supervised by Claudis Wallich, who had experience managing the Clackamas, Oregon, hatchery in Oregon. In addition to the hatchery building, a steam-heating plant, workers quarters and messhouse were also added. Within a year the cost for the station was just over $25,000.

In May and June 1906, over 6.6 million sockeye salmon fry were released, which was 94.4% of the eggs taken. In the following year, the number rose to 54.6 million (released 12-21-06 to 5-31-07). By 1925, the hatchery's capacity had grown to 72 million eggs. Fishing was prohibited at all times on the reserve, except when salmon counts exceeded the hatchery's capacity.

  weir on McDonald Lake
Weir on McDonald Lake.  BOF photo, 1927.

Several addditional improvements to the buildings and equipment were made in 1913-14. This work included the construction of an electric lighting plant, three 12-foot by 60-foot salmon-rearing ponds, and 160 hatching troughs that were immediately put into operation.

Years later, in 1920-21, the hatchery's deteriorating buildings and equipment required extensive repairs to the extent that no eggs were collected locally and only a limited number from outside were brought in for incubation. Using the hatchery's yearly appropriation, these restorations and improvements included new building foundation timbers and flooring, 240 new hatching troughs with a 196-foot supply trough, the new pipeline water-supply system, and various property renovations. Extensive work was done again in 1927.

Following a visit from the Commissioner of Fisheries, the Yes Bay hatchery was ordered to be shut down in July 1933 – about the same time as the Bureau's Afognak hatchery. Over the next year, the station was dismantled and abandoned. Barges and ships hauled away the equipment, most of which going to the Pribilof Islands facility or other Bureau hatcheries. In 1935, President F. D. Roosevelt revoked the earlier "reserve" designation of the land, which then became part of the Tongass National Forest. What remained of the Yes Bay station was transferred to the U.S. Forest Service and made into a Civilian Conservations Corps camp.

Additional accounts and photos from 1914 of Yes Bay and other hatcheries are found on p. 74-92  in:
Jones, L. E. 1915. Report of Alaska Investigations in 1914, 155 p.  (.pdf, 17.45 MB).

Additional reading:

  • Roppel, P. 1982. The Federal Government Hatcheries (Ch. V): Yes Bay Hatchery, p. 193-216. In P. Roppel, Alaska's Salmon Hatcheries 1891-1959. U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, Portland, OR., 299 p.
  • Alphonse Kemmerich's Remarks About Yes Bay, Alaska (with pictures taken by Alphonse and Pauline Kemmerich). Parts 1-5.  (Halliday family website – last accessed 9-14-11).

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