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Trail Lakes Hatchery: CIAA’s Central Hub

The Trail Lakes Hatchery, located in Moose Pass, has enhanced the area’s salmon runs since 1982. Learn about its past, present, and future.

by | June 1, 2022

Trail Lakes Hatchery fish mural
In 2021, hatchery staff reinstalled a fish mural on the outside of Trail Lakes Hatchery, making it more obvious what the facility is all about. CIAA

Since 1988, the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA) has operated the Trail Lakes Hatchery in Moose Pass. Of all CIAA hatcheries, Trail Lakes is by far the most complex. Its diverse contributions have built strong common property salmon fisheries.

Trail Lakes is a “central incubation facility,” which means no salmon return directly to the hatchery. CIAA staff collect eggs and milt at lakes and saltwater sites away from the hatchery. They transport the eggs and milt back by boat, truck, and sometimes plane. The same holds true for the releases of juvenile salmon. Staff transport these fish to their respective release sites each spring and summer.

Learn more about the history of the Trail Lakes Hatchery. Find out about its role in enhancing the sockeye and coho fisheries from Resurrection Bay to Kachemak Bay. See how it will help the area’s commercial, sport and personal use fisheries in the future.

An Overview of Trail Lakes Hatchery

Early morning feed at Trail Lakes Hatchery
An early morning feeding of sockeye smolt in the Resurrection Bay net pens. The fish are reared for just a few short weeks in the net pens and then released to the ocean. CIAA

The state of Alaska originally established and operated Trail Lakes Hatchery . The state built the hatchery in 1982. Shortly after, in 1988, the state contracted with CIAA to operate the hatchery in a public-private partnership. The agreement also included the Bear Lake Weir (located near Seward). CIAA took over the funding and operation of the hatchery and weir while the state retains ownership of the facilities.

At Trail Lakes, permitted capacity is 30 million sockeye eggs, 6 million coho eggs, and 4 million chinook salmon eggs. Production has focused primarily on sockeye and coho salmon. This hatchery has always been a key facility in contributing to salmon fisheries throughout the Cook Inlet area. 

The Reach of Trail Lakes Hatchery

Beginning with the first CIAA releases in 1990, Trail Lakes Hatchery has released juvenile sockeye at the following sites:

  • Kenai Peninsula: Bear Lake, Grouse Lake, Hidden Lake, Coal Creek, Resurrection Bay, Tustumena Lake 
  • Matanuska-Susitna region: Big Lake, Chelatna Lake, Meadow Creek, Shell Lake
  • Mid and Lower Cook Inlet: English Bay Lakes, Port Graham, Hazel Lake, Kirschner Lake, Leisure Lake, Packers Creek, Upper Paint Lake

The hatchery has released juvenile coho at:

  • Lower Cook Inlet: Tutka Bay Lagoon, Homer Spit, Seldovia
  • Kenai Peninsula: Bear Creek, Bear Lake, Seward Lagoon, Crooked Creek, Lowell Creek, Resurrection Bay. 

History of Hatchery Programs

Former fisheries technician (and current CIAA Board President) Dale Bagley helps harvest salmon for cost recovery at Packers Lake weir in the 1980s. Packers Lake was taken out of Trail Lakes Hatchery operations in the late 1990s due to high operational costs and regulatory changes. CIAA

Some programs have started and stopped because of regulatory changes, operational costs, and other various reasons.  A successful Trail Lakes Hatchery sockeye fry stocking program historically was the Tustumena Lake project. During some years, this project produced returns in the millions. Commercial and personal use fishermen harvested these fish. Meanwhile, CIAA used adult returns as the brood source for several other sites, including Lower Cook Inlet lakes. CIAA halted the Tustumena Lake project in 2003 due to a court decision increased the complexity of operations at Trail Lakes Hatchery.

Two Hatcheries Team Up

To make up for the Tustumenta brood source loss, CIAA began a sockeye program using both Trail Lakes and Tutka Bay Lagoon hatcheries. Tutka Bay Lagoon originally used Hidden Lake and then English Bay Lake broodstock. Under the new arrangement, Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery began to serve as a sockeye salmon remote rearing site for Trail Lakes Hatchery. 

Technicians take eggs and milt from returning adult sockeye salmon at the Tutka Bay Lagoon net pen complex. They travel by plane to Trail Lakes Hatchery where eggs incubate and hatch into fry. A portion of the fry grow into smolt. At this point, they travel back to the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery net pen complex via trucks and boats. CIAA uses the net pen complex to rear the smolt before release to Tutka Bay Lagoon. 

Bear Lake Weir

An integral part of the Trail Lakes Hatchery is the Bear Creek Weir. The weir predates the hatchery, having been in operation since 1963 for Bear Lake coho stocking. This reflects the importance of enhanced salmon fisheries to the region. Each spring, hatchery staff identify the species and count the numbers of young salmon leaving Bear Lake. CIAA also counts the species and numbers of adult salmon returning to the lake. This counting continues through to the fall and helps CIAA evaluate its hatchery operations and make forecasts. It also assists ADF&G in opening the commercial fishery, raising the sport fish daily limit, and other management decisions.

ADF&G uses Bear Creek Weir each fall to collect coho salmon eggs. These eggs incubate at the state’s William Jack Hernandez Hatchery in Anchorage. The hatchery then raises the juvenile salmon for the sport fishery throughout Southcentral Alaska. 

Trail Lakes Hatchery: Present Status

Sockeye transfer in Homer
A vessel in Homer with sockeye smolt that were raised at Trail Lakes Hatchery. These smolt were transferred to Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery net pens for short-term rearing before being released to the ocean. Aly Crocker, CIAA

Trail Lakes Hatchery releases sockeye fry to Hidden Lake, Bear Lake, Leisure Lake, Hazel Lake, Kirschner Lake, and Resurrection Bay. 

The hatchery also releases sockeye smolt to Tutka Bay Lagoon. A portion of the returning adults to Tutka Bay Lagoon are broodstock for the Lower Cook Inlet projects of Leisure, Hazel, and Kirschner lakes, as well as Tutka Bay Lagoon. The resulting sockeye salmon returns provide fisheries for commercial, sport, personal use (China Poot). It also benefits recreational users as well as cost recovery opportunities for CIAA. 

CIAA releases juvenile coho to Bear Creek and Bear Lake.

Trail Lakes Hatchery Sockeye Return to Resurrection Bay

Father and son with sockeyes raised at Trail Lakes Hatchery
Sport fishermen have been enjoying the CIAA-provided sockeye salmon fishery in Resurrection Bay for years. Max Klingestein

Nearly all of the adult sockeye returning to Resurrection Bay and Bear Lake are from the Trail Lakes Hatchery operations. We may harvest a portion of the return for cost recovery. This provides funding for Trail Lakes Hatchery to continue its operations. This has resulted in not only sockeye fisheries for the commercial fleet, but an increasingly popular sport fishery. Harvesters from all over the state make a journey to Seward each summer to fill their freezers with sockeyes. 

Trail Lakes and the Seward Silver Salmon Derby

Trail Lakes Hatchery raises coho salmon that return to Resurrection Bay to be harvested in the popular Silver Salmon Derby. CIAA

The recreational users in Seward also benefit from Trail Lakes Hatchery’s coho salmon program. On average, CIAA releases 450,000 coho salmon fry each year into Bear Lake. In cooperation with the Seward Chamber of Commerce, CIAA releases 50,000 to 75,000 additional coho salmon smolt into Bear Creek. The returning adult cohos are the prized target species of Seward’s Silver Salmon Derby.

Trail Lakes and Upper Cook Inlet

The Hidden Lake program provides fish directly for the Upper Cook Inlet common property fisheries. Annually unfed fry are released to this lake, located in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Here, they feed and grow into smolt that migrate out to the salt waters of Cook Inlet. This is a carefully monitored project, especially because it is in the refuge. The goal is to have 30,000 fish return to the lake to begin the cycle over each year. 

Trail Lakes Hatchery is a critical piece of the program that provides Lower Cook Inlet sockeye fisheries. This is possible through its partnership with Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery. 

Schedule a Tour

See for yourself how Trail Lakes Hatchery continues to build strong fisheries for communities throughout the Cook Inlet region. Schedule a tour by calling 907-288-3688, or visit our website.

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