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AFSC Historical Corner:  Afognak Hatchery

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Yes Bay hatchery
Afognak hatchery with sawmill.  Bureau of Fisheries photo, 1914.

Shortly after the Bureau of Fisheries' (BOF) first hatchery at Yes Bay/McDonald Lake was built, construction on a second one began at Afognak Lake (or Litnik Lake), on Agognak Island in central Alaska. It became partially operational during the 1908-09 season, however, the light run of sockeye salmon that year yielded 46.3 million eggs, well less than the 76 million taken in the following year.

An 85-foot long, 16-foot high, dam was erected above the rapids of Hatchery Creek, which provided a continuous water supply. Since the dam also prevented fish from continuing upstream, salmon were caught by seining at the creek's opening, then later by the use of several seines and racks located at the lake's headwaters.

In 1911, dynamite was used to create a fish ascent runway in the falls of Afognak River. To facilitate the counting of salmon entering the lake, a rack was also built across the river. That same year, an experiment was conducted to determine the ideal ripeness for producing the highest quality eggs.

For 3 days in June 1912, the eruption of Mount Katmai dropped 3-10 inches of ash over Afognak Island. Salmon were either forced back to deeper water or had perished in the streams and lakes that were clogged with mud and volcanic deposits. BOF Agent E. M. Ball reported that at the lake's head, 8,000 to 10,000 fish were killed (an unknown number were covered in ash) and 4,000 had died at the lake weir. At the hatchery ash had accumulated in the troughs, and over the next two seasons both eggs and fry were lost to suffocation.

interior of Afognak hatchery
Interior of the Afognak hatchery.  BOF photo, 1914.
 
 

A significant drop in the amount of eggs taken was experienced over the next 4 years. In spring of 1913, the streams were still subjected to the ash from rain and thawing snow. Ball felt, however, the low salmon count was due essentially to the commercial fishing in the area that was restored in 1912. In 1917, the numbers were back to over 50 million.

In 1913, two temporary experimental field stations, with hatching troughs, and additional counting racks were constructed nearby at Eagle Lake and Uganik Lake. The locations proved undesirable and were not used beyond the next year.

To rehabilitate the Afognak Lake salmon runs, sockeye and pink salmon eggs were taken in 1914-16 from a favorable site at Seal Bay, on the island's northeast coast, and transferred to the Afognak hatchery. Eggs were also brought in from the Yes Bay hatchery in 1915. These transfers were discontinued in 1917 when the runs at the lake greatly increased.

Operations at the Afognak hatchery throughout the 1920s. In 1920, a weir/rack was constructed across the Afognak River for counting the returning sockeye salmon to ascertain if commercial fishing should be allowed in Afognak Bay. In May and June of 1921, a disease epidemic resulted in a high loss of eggs was experienced. This was thought to have been caused by a reduced vitality in the parent fish (passed on to the eggs and fry), brought about by unusual low water during the previous summer, when the eggs were taken. In 1924, the station was closed for repairs due to diminshed salmon runs in the previous year and extensive storm damage (e.g., much of the protective waterfront bulkhead lost, the boathouse destroyed, the 100-foot wireless tower ruined, uprooted trees).

As was the fate of the Yes Bay Hatchery, Afognak was closed after 1933 "owing to economy requirements and some question as to the value of operations" (Leach, 1934 *). The station eventually became a recreation center for the U.S. Navy until the end of the 1960s.

* Leach, G. C. 1934. Propagation and Distribution of Food Fishes, Fiscal Year, 1933, p. 451-484. In Report of the Untied States Commissioner of Fisheries for the Fiscal Year 1933. Wash. G.P.O. 484 p.


Additional reading:

  • Roppel, P. 1982. The Federal Government Hatcheries (Ch. V): Afognak Hatchery, p. 216-234. In P. Roppel, Alaska's Salmon Hatcheries 1891-1959. U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, Portland, OR., 299 p.
     
  • Accounts and photos from 1914 of Afognak and other hatcheries, p. 74-92. In Jones, L. E. 1915. Report of Alaska Investigations in 1914, 155 p.  (.pdf, 17.45 MB).

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