Home » News » Transporting Salmon From Hatcheries to Net Pens

Transporting Salmon From Hatcheries to Net Pens

In the spring, CIAA begins transporting salmon smolt to temporary holding pens near the ocean. Learn how the process helps boost returns.

by | April 21, 2022

Transporting salmon by pipe at Resurrection Bay.
A transfer pipe carries salmon to a net pen in Resurrection Bay near Seward. CIAA

In mid-April, the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA) staff begins transporting salmon for release to lakes or the ocean. Just like in nature, the longer spring days and warmer temperatures mark the beginning the annual salmon migration process. Under Alaska state permitting, CIAA starts transporting salmon.

The activity really picks up at our Trail Lakes Hatchery. This hatchery operates as a rearing facility only. No returns or releases occur directly at the hatchery itself but occur at other locations. This month, Trail Lakes Hatchery staff began transporting about 1.5 million sockeye smolt to Resurrection Bay net pens. Staff dipnetted the fish out of the raceways and weighed them before transport. The average size for a smolt was about 5 grams, the same weight as a quarter.

The Journey to Resurrection Bay

Once weighed, staff loaded the juvenile salmon into tanks on transport trucks and then drove them to Seward. Using a pipe and gravity at low tide, these salmon are moved out to the Resurrection Bay net pen complex.

The fish remain the net pens for about six to eight weeks, while we continue to feed them. When the fish weigh about 15 grams — about the same weight as three quarters — we release them at Resurrection Bay. These salmon smolt continue to migrate out to the ocean. They join their naturally-produced peers, subject to the same pressures and predators along the way. In just a few years, they will return as adults. Sport and commercial fishermen harvest them in Resurrection Bay. They are also available for cost recovery and brood stock.

Crew transfer salmon by pipe onto a boat at Homer harbor for the trip to Tutka Bay Lagoon. CIAA

Transporting Salmon to Tutka Bay Lagoon

A couple of days after the Resurrection Bay smolt transfer, Trail Lakes Hatchery staff began moving about 470,000 sockeye smolt to Tutka Bay Lagoon. Again, staff dipnetted the fish out of the raceways and weighed them with an average weight of six grams. Staff then loaded them into the transport trucks and drove the fish about 140 miles south to Homer.

Once in Homer, staff loaded the fish into a holding tank on a boat in the harbor. Staff carefully monitored the salmon as the boat made its way to Tutka Bay Lagoon. Upon arrival, staff released the fish into net pens in the lagoon.

We release the fish in about six to eight weeks, when double their weight to 12 grams. These fish will return in one to three years. They will continue to be the brood source for the Lower Cook Inlet programs. This includes China Poot, Hazel, Kirschner, and Tutka Bay Lagoon. Trail Lakes Hatchery will begin transporting other salmon soon, Sockeye fry, coho fry and coho smolt will go to Bear Lake. Sockeye fry will be released directly to China Poot, Hazel, and Kirschner lakes.

This is how CIAA weighs sockeye salmon smolt before transfer to net pens. CIAA

Transferring Pink Salmon at Tutka Bay and Port Graham

At our pink salmon hatcheries at Tutka Bay Lagoon and Port Graham, pink salmon fry emerge from their incubators. Unlike Trail Lakes Hatchery, the pink fry move on their own from the hatchery through pipes. They travel out to the net pens, where they are fed for a short term before release. These fish will return to their respective hatcheries as well.

All through the transport and release process, hatchery staff handle salmon with utmost care. CIAA ensure they have a good start on their journey out to the ocean.

See For Yourself

Would you like to see how Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association handles salmon from hatchlings to smolt? Learn more at our website and sign up for a hatchery tour.

You May Also Like

Upcoming Events

See Full Calendar →


Follow CIAA's monthly newsletter to learn more about local aquaculture.

We promise we’ll never spam! Take a look at our Privacy Policy for more info.

Follow CIAA on Facebook