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Pink salmon egg take heralds end of summer

The pink salmon egg take begins with construction of weirs at our hatcheries. The process follows several more steps throughout the year.

by | September 28, 2023

Tutka weir and egg take trailer
The completed weir spanning Tutka Creek which will help funnel fish into the holding area for the egg take. CIAA

The end of summer is a busy time for our crew at Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery (TBLH). When the pink salmon crowd Tutka Creek trying to make their way upstream to spawn you know that the egg take is right around the corner.

Egg take isn’t just one activity. It’s a process involving many different steps. Let’s start at the beginning.

Step One: Weir installation

The first step of the egg take is to install the weir across Tutka Creek, which is no easy process. The creek can be flashy and has been known to wash the weir out in the past. The whole weir installation process takes about 1-to-3 three days with an experienced crew. The finished product is a two-panel weir designed to funnel fish into a holding area on the downstream side near the egg-take trailer.

Step Two: Wait for the right moment

With the weir installed the crew monitors the run to ensure escapement goals set by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are met.  As the fish begin to ripen and reach maturity the egg take will begin.

As fish mature they tend to “push the weir” which is a good indication of when to begin egg take. Typically as the spawning process moves along more fish will become ripe every day so waiting for all the fish to be ready at once isn’t necessary or practical.

Step Three: Corral the fish

Once the process begins it’s an all-hands-on-deck approach, everyone onsite is needed in some capacity. Fish at the weir will migrate to a small corral area where they can enter the lowered fish box that will be raised to slide into the shock box.

Sometimes one or two people are in the creek to physically herd fish into the corral box to start the process. Another person runs the shock box, lifting it from the creek, shocking the fish, and then emptying the contents into the trailer specially designed for the pink salmon egg-take at TBLH.

Step Four: Sorting and milking

"Milking" the salmon
A bucker “milking” the pink salmon male to extract the milt, which will be mixed with the ripe eggs from the females. CIAA

Once the fish are inside the trailer they need to be sorted into males and females, this is a job for two people—or one really fast person! Once they’re sorted they send them down to the spawners and buckers.

The spawners remove eggs from the females; which then slide into a chute and are mixed with milt.  If the eggs are green (not yet ripe) they get sent down another chute, cleaned, and sold as part of cost recovery revenue. The buckers “milk” the pink salmon males to extract their milt.

Step Five: Sell the carcasses

All the used salmon carcasses get added to totes with ice sold and processed as part of cost recovery revenues. When the tides are high enough a boat will come in and grab the carcass totes to bring to Homer and the empty totes are returned to gather carcasses for the remainder of the egg take. Throughout the egg take the totes need to be moved, filled with ice, and stored when full which is almost a full-time job in itself.

Step Six: Incubation

Taking inventory of pink salmon eggs.
Fertilized eggs being inventoried before being placed in incubators inside the hatchery building. CIAA

Once the eggs and milt are mixed they slide down the chute into a designated five-gallon bucket, once full the buckets are taken into the hatchery building and weighed, and then water is added to the bucket to activate both the eggs and milt for fertilization. After a while, the eggs are rinsed, disinfected, and inventoried before being placed in incubators.

Step Seven: Move to the net pens

They will spend 6-to-7 months in the incubators before emerging from the substrate and moving into net pens in Tutka Bay. They spend a few weeks in the net pens being fed before they are large enough to start their ocean journey.

The egg take typically takes a few weeks to complete. Once all is said and done the crew can breathe a sigh of relief as the long strenuous days are over, for now. They will switch gear to fish culture and other hatchery tasks to prepare for winter and next year’s egg take.

Schedule a tour

If you would like to know more about pink salmon egg takes or any of our other hatchery operations, we’d be happy to host you for an inside tour.

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