ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — The William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery sits just north of the busiest part of Anchorage in Ship Creek.
Every year when king salmon run up the creek to spawn, anglers pack the banks. Staff from the hatchery hit to creek too, but they're more worried about harvesting fish eggs than the are landing the a big catch.
Ship Creek is usually the primary source of eggs for the hatchery's smolt and brood programs; however, this year's chinook return was way down.
Gary George manages the hatchery at Ship Creek. He says his team has had to look elsewhere to make up for the shortage in Anchorage.
"Ninilchilk River had a really good return, everything else was pretty low," George said. "Thankfully we had enough places to collect from, and one had a enough to cover us everywhere else."
This year's salmon forecasts have prompted officials to issue several restrictions for kings in the Northern Cook Inlet, but the hatchery is still on pace to introduce 1.3 million salmon to Alaska waterways in 2019, despite the uncertain outlook.
"We're able to introduce these fish and it takes the pressure off the wild stock," George said. "Most of the places where we put them, there wasn't a Chinook return so they aren't competing with a natural reproducing population of Chinooks in that river."
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website, "King salmon sport fisheries will be closed in 2019 throughout the Susitna River, Yentna River and Little Susitna River drainages. Commercial fishing will be closed in the Northern District of Upper Cook Inlet through June 24 to allow passage of king salmon through the district."
Subsistence king salmon fisheries in the Tyonek Subdistrict and Upper Yentna are being restricted to two days per week during the respective subsistence fishery seasons.
The hatchery specifically works to raise the sports fish stock of several species, including Chinook and Coho salmon, Arctic char, and rainbow trout.
The hope is that as these fish stocks are introduced to areas designated for sport fishing, it creates more opportunities for wild stocks to spawn.
In a best case scenario, the young kings released by the hatchery also have a chance to imprint to those waterways increasing the likelihood that they will return to spawn in the future.