The chum and coho salmon are arriving at Salmon Creek and the spawning and feeding frenzy has the usually placid creek boiling and roiling as the salmon navigate the shallows. As noted in the Juneau Empire, “their dorsal fins cutting the surface like those of tiny sharks.”
Yes, the creek adjacent to the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery is really called Salmon Creek.
Millions of silvery coho (silver) and chum (dog) salmon are expected to return to Juneau area creeks, streams and rivers over the next few weeks. Chinook (king) and pink salmon arrived about three weeks ago with sockeye (red) salmon arriving in the next couple weeks. It is an extraordinary chapter in the salmon life-cycle and just as extraordinary to witness millions of salmon making their way back to the waters where they themselves were born.
Hordes of fisherman, eagles, seagulls, ravens, crows, arctic terns and sea lions are congregating at the mouth of Salmon Creek and at the hatchery’s fish ladder entrance to partake in this annual sushi buffet. Black bears will also be plundering the upper reaches of area’s waterway’s during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk. I often see black bears fishing for sockeye salmon at the Steep Creek bear viewing platform at the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area.
Alaska’s rich watershed is an ideal home for all five species of Pacific salmon and the last great stronghold for healthy stocks of wild salmon. About 50 million salmon are caught annually in the waterways of the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. One in 10 jobs are supported by salmon in Southeast Alaska and 96 percent of Alaskans say salmon is essential to the Alaskan way of life.¹
The salmon migrate to the hatchery because they are genetically inclined to return to their natal waters. Some go astray and spawn in Salmon Creek or other waterways, but that is good as it adds genetic diversity to the local salmon population. To learn more about salmon, go to http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=sockeyesalmon.main. To learn more about the Alaska Fish and Game hatchery program click on this link.
Fishing at Salmon Creek, these eagles, seagulls and Artic terns are just three of
the more than 130 plants and animals that utilize nutrients from salmon.
Managed by the non-profit Douglas Island Pink & Chum, Inc. (DIPAC), the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery releases about 120 million juvenile salmon into the ocean each spring where they will spend their adult lives in the “wild.”
“Salmon always attempt to return to their home stream to spawn; consequently the salmon released from our hatchery site will return here to spawn anywhere from 2-7 years later,” states the hatchery’s website. “Of that 120 million released each year, anywhere between 1 percent and 10 percent will return back here as adults.”
The Alaska Salmon Hatchery program was established to increase fish abundance, enhance fisheries, serve the residents of Alaska and protect wild salmon stocks.
Macaulay Salmon Hatchery is open to the public during the summer and is one of the most affordable and fascinating tours in Juneau. I rate it among my top-10 things to do in Juneau if you visit when the salmon are swimming up the fish ladder. For only $3.25 for adults and $1.25 for children, visitors can take the basic tour to learn about the fascinating life cycle of salmon, their near shore marine environment, and the inner workings of a hatchery. There is also the summer-only (June-August) Deluxe Nooks & Crannies Tour (adults $10, children $5.25) where visitors get an inside look at the hatchery’s operations, including a behind-the-scenes tour and extended commentary. Most cruise ship offer this excursion, but if you purchase this tour through your cruise line, it will cost more because the cruise lines provide transportation to and from the hatchery and often combine the hatchery visit with another local attraction.
To learn more about the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery go to: http://dipac.net
¹ US Forest Service
Text & Photos by Aleta Walther © 2015
Naturalist, Outdoor Excursion Guide, CIG, CTA, ATG