A fire has destroyed the main incubation building of a Petersburg fish hatchery, wiping out about 40 percent hatchery's Chinook salmon eggs and destroying about $700,000 dollars of potential catch.
David Berg, Assistant Chief with the Petersburg Volunteer Fire Department, said PVFD received the call around 2 a.m. early Tuesday for a fire at the Crystal Lake Fish Hatchery.
A resident at the hatchery, located about 18 miles south of Petersburg, said the facility's main incubation building was on fire.
A fire engine and a team of fire fighters arrived on scene about 30 minutes later, Berg said, as the 18-mile distance to the hatchery is outside the 12-mile primary service area of PVFD. By that time a second call said the building was fully engulfed in flames.
The fire was threatening to spread to nearby fuel tanks, but Berg said fire fighters kept the flames at bay. Several hours on scene left the building “burnt down to a manageable level” and firefighters returned to town, Berg said.
The building is “a total loss,” along with a generator shed located nearby. No one was injured in the fire.
The Crystal Lake Hatchery is part of the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association Inc., a non-profit that promotes salmon fisheries, manages hatcheries, and runs other salmon enhancement projects in the region.
SSRAA Production Manager Bill Gass said the fire is bad news, but “timing was a little bit of a silver lining.”
With an incubation capacity of two millions eggs or sac fry juveniles, Gass said slightly over half of this year’s batch of king salmon were still in the incubation unit at the time of the fire.
“We got a portion of that production outside. If this had happened two or three weeks ago, we would have lost everything. At least now we have some fish to move forward for next year,” Gass said.
Revised numbers released Wednesday estimated the loss to be about a 700,000 Chinook juveniles or eggs, which he said would translate to about $700,000 million in lost revenue to southeast Alaska fishermen.
In addition, Gass said about 200,000 coho eggs were also lost in the fire.
For the Crystal Lake Hatchery, that’s more than half of the dollar value produced in fish each year, Gass said. With an average production of about $15 million a year throughout the SSRRA, Gass said the fire destroyed “as much as five percent” of the associations’ value.
“For this facility, it’s a loss of well over half the value to the fishermen … (and is) affecting essentially every fishermen in the region, including sport fishermen,” Gass said.
He added that the fish outside the building are fine and that SSRRA hopes to rebuild the incubation unit at Crystal Lake.
There are enough fish on hand to take eggs this summer on schedule, Gass added.
An assistant state fire marshal was in Petersburg for other business and is now on the scene investigating the cause of the blaze, which currently remains unknown.
Editor's note: SSRAA staff say more than a million Chinook salmon eggs, not coho salmon eggs as initially reported, were destroyed in the fire. Only 200,000 coho eggs were lost. In addition, revised numbers brought the estimate of $1.2 million dollars in loss down to $700,000.