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Overwintering at Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery

As the rest of us huddle around our wood stoves, the staff of Tutka Bay Lagoon reach for their snow shovels.

by | February 16, 2023

Shoveling snow off the hatchery fuel shed.
Assistant Hatchery Manager Alex Walczyk shovels snow off of the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery fuel shed. Credit: Riley Waterman

As many Alaskans know, winter brings us delight earlier in the year than most. Here at Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery, we embrace the challenges and struggles of winter.

You may find yourself walking to work in the darkness and retreating home after a long cold day of snow removal in the dark again. It would seem that this idea would get old, but all the while, there is the growing knowledge that it is now one day closer to the return of sunlight on site and adult salmon crowding the creek. 

If you were to find yourself walking through the site during the winter, you would see stunning views of the surrounding mountains covered in a fresh blanket of snow and tall climbing spruce trees looking more like cotton balls than trees.

Lots of shoveling to do

The beauty and awe that this location provides makes it easy to forget the laboring task of snow removal. There is typically always snow to remove on site, whether it’s plowing large piles with our bobcat or shoveling roofs and walkways, we will be out in it every day. To date this winter, we haven’t been hit too hard with large snow amounts, but have seen consistent daily accumulation that requires attention. 

Tending to the eggs and fry

Winter doesn’t always mean just snow removal, there are still eggs and fry incubating that need constant tending to and attention. This season, we saw our fish complete their hatching by late December. During the hatching phase seen in early winter, screens within incubators need to be cleaned throughout the day many times per day.

After hatching has been completed, our fry work load lessens and allows us to focus on snow removal and prep work for up-and-coming spring time activities. These typically include maintenance of our large equipment as well as catching up on the repair of our small motors and outboards. This also provides the opportunity to recruit and hire more hands for the upcoming season.

Spring is just around the corner

As the sun slowly creeps back onto site, one can feel the excitement of spring and more importantly the fish beginning their return shortly. What can we expect to see as winter lessens its grip? Starting in early February, our staff will begin monitoring yolk sac percentages of our pink fry.

We are simply observing how much of their original nutrients provided by the egg are left, allowing us to determine when these fish should be ponded and switched to regular feedings. During the first few weeks of March, our fry will be transferred to their saltwater pens to begin their rearing season through May.

Boats will be moving back and forth and additional help will start to arrive to prepare for our summer of fish handling. The biggest takeaway from a Tutka winter is the idea that even though there is a pile of snow on the ground, that doesn’t stop us from proceeding with our work.

We would have a hard time not enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells that come with everyday overwinter work, but we are certainly looking forward to spring and sun!

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