Early on a recent Wednesday morning, anglers in Anchorage lined Ship Creek and cast lines to catch returning chinook salmon.
Just minutes after 6 a.m., shouts of “fish on!” fluttered across the shore.
“Uncle! Uncle!” Marvin Richards yelled to Harold Richards. The top of his rod was bouncing as it rested in a holder.
Harold Richards grabbed the rod, moved it sharply up and to his right and hooked a salmon. His nephew grabbed a net and ran to the shore to help guide the chinook in.
With a grin that spanned the width of his face, Richards placed the fish in the grass and set the line again next to his nephew.
Similar scenes unfolded throughout the morning thanks in part to an ongoing effort from staff at the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery, where each year they raise the next salmon that will mature in the wild and return to Ship Creek in three to five years.
There, Alaska Department of Fish and Game fish culturists have raised the newest group of king salmon, which started as eggs last July and grew into smolt this spring. It’s part of an endeavor that’s been happening at the Anchorage hatchery for years.
It all begins with the yearly eggtake from chinooks returning to Ship Creek, a uniquely urban waterway that partially flows along the edge of downtown Anchorage. After the eggs are fertilized, they’re loaded into incubators surrounded by warm lights that mimic the color of the tens of thousands of orange eggs.
For months, it was up to fish culturists Scott Cunfer and Tim VanGelderen to keep these eggs alive and ensure their growth into fry. Long nights, daily checks and frequent cleanings are just a portion of the list when it comes to this job.
“I’ve just always enjoyed watching animals grow,” said Cunfer, who grew up around farm animals. “It’s just enjoyable to watch these fish get bigger and bigger … and to see it all happen in front of your eyes at such a quick pace.”
By mid-January, the fish weighed about 3 grams and were transferred to the production floor, Cunfer said. From there, fish culturists Cody Block and Greg Carpenter took over. Continued months of monitoring, disease control and cleaning took place as the salmon grew.