Weak return of silvers in Bird Creek
The stocked fishery was expected to have a slow year due to smaller salmon smolts released
By Ken Smith
It appears this season’s silver salmon return was weak in Bird Creek. There are no fish counters on the creek, but from what fishermen reported and biologist observed, the run wasn’t as strong as past years.
“Just by what people were catching, it was a below average run and that seems to be the case for the whole area,” said state fish biologist Dan Bosch.
The state’s new hatchery in Elmendorf that opened this year, stocks coho salmon in Bird, Campbell and Ship Creeks as well as Knik Arm, Prince William Sound and the Copper River Delta. They also stock king salmon in Ship Creek and local lakes, and they hatch other sports fish like rainbow trout and arctic char.
As for the reason for the weak return of silvers, Bosch speculated that it may be a matter of marine survival being down due to factors such as a lack of their primary food – zooplankton – and smaller than average smolts being released.
“If the zooplankton’s down, the fish return will be,” he said. “We’re seeing smaller sizes which is an indicator that they are not getting enough food. We were getting four or five pound coho this year. Typically we see six or seven pounds or bigger. The coho in Ship Creek were also smaller, and that means fewer eggs.”
The smaller run of silvers was anticipated by biologists because the smolts released for this run were raised in a cold water environment at the old hatchery in Elmendorf, which lacked electricity to heat the water. The new hatchery has warm water, which aids in the growth of smolts – and larger smolts means a greater survival rate and bigger fish returning.
“Next year, we should be getting nice fish if they have a good marine environment,” said Bosch. “The fish that are in the hatchery this year will be released the following year. A return of fish spawned this year will come back in 2014. They will be stocked in 2013 and be back in 2014.”
He said next year’s stock of smolts in the hatchery will weigh about 20 grams – the ideal weight for smolts to be released.
The new hatchery is much larger than the older ones and will take about four years to fully stock with smolts which is predicated on the collection of eggs each year at the different stocked creeks.
Bird Creek is a popular fishing area for silvers, but fishermen this year were walking away with less fish due to the smaller run– about 2,500 salmon, compared to 5,000 to 10,000 silvers returning in past years. Typically, the return is about 5 percent of the stocked smolts released. Last year, 100,000 smolts were stocked in Bird Creek. Coho salmon spend one to three years in saltwater before returning to spawn.
The creek also has a natural run of pink and chum salmon, which have had strong returns over the years. There is also a natural run of kings in the creek, but they are off-limits to anglers due to their small returns.
This year’s number of kings was estimated at 120 in both Bird and Penguin Creeks. Biologist count the kings by wading through the center of the two creeks where the kings return to spawn each year.