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Leading a fish to water: The process of raising fish in the Fairbanks Hatchery

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 4:07 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Ruth Burnett Sport Fish Hatchery is responsible for stocking many fishing lakes in Interior Alaska every year.

According to Travis Hyer, Manager of the Ruth Burnett Sport Fish Hatchery, the hatchery raises a variety of different fish annually. “The bulk of what we raise are rainbow trout. But we also produce arctic char, lake trout, king salmon, and silver salmon. Both salmon species are only for lake stocking. In fact, everything we do in this facility is just for lake stocking so while we are producing salmon, they never go in a river system.”

And due to the yearly stocking efforts, Hyer says the hatchery has to account for the different time each species needs to be raised before being released. “We stock annually, every species gets stocked annually. Within that, there’s variation between the different species and what life stage we’re stocking. So whether or not we’re stocking an eight to ten inch catchable fish or a fingerling depends on how long they’re in their hatchery. For us it goes from anywhere from about four to five months at the minimum up to about 16 months as a maximum.”

The various species raised at the hatchery are all brought in as eggs from both the wild and other facilities in Alaska according to Hyer. “Everything that we produce in the facility starts here as an egg. We don’t bring any small fish into the facility or anything else. So all the life stages start as an egg. For the arctic grayling, lake trout, king salmon, and silver salmon, those eggs come from wild stocks. So we go out into the field and spawn wild adults, and they bring those eggs back into the facility. For the rainbow trout and arctic char, those eggs originate from a captive brood stock held in an Anchorage hatchery down there. They ship those eggs up to us and we get them.”

From there, each species is raised until they are ready to be released from any of the 115 lakes the hatchery stocks from the Elliot River down to Glenallen.

“So everything originates as an egg, [and] it goes into our incubation facility, Again it varies by the species how long it spends in that - anywhere from as short as three to four weeks up to three to four months for the king salmon. After that, the fish are ponded into our start-up tanks where they start as fry. They’re reared up to about a fingerling size, so about a three inch sized fish. From there, they’re either stocked out in local lakes if what the managers would like to see in those lakes is a fingerling product, or we will hold those for continued rearing to catchable sized fish for our bigger lakes,” Hyer explained.

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