VFDA built the Solomon Gulch Hatchery (SGH) in 1981, and released its first pink salmon fry in 1982. It has operated consistently since then. The water for the hatchery is provided by the Solomon Gulch Hydroelectric Plant, owned by the Copper Valley Electric Association through a cooperative agreement. VFDA employs a hatchery crew of twelve full and part-time employees, and is directed by Hatchery Manager Rob Unger. Other staff includes an assistant manager, fish culturists, maintenance support staff, and night watchmen. The hatchery staff lives in the Valdez community. SGH has a permitted green egg capacity to incubate 230 million pink salmon and 2 million coho salmon each year. These egg capacities are strictly controlled by the State of Alaska. With this capacity, VFDA achieves annual releases of approximately 218 million pink salmon fry, and 1.75 million coho salmon smolt. Egg take or spawning happens in late summer. Hatchery staff may spawn as many as 16,000 adult brood stock each day. These fish return to the hatchery spawning building by entering the facility using a fish ladder, which carry the fish from salt water to raceways on shore. Over the winter, the hatchery staff tends to the eggs as they hatch into alevin and settle into simulated gravel to subsist from their yolk sacs. In early spring, the fry emerge and are ready to go to sea. VFDA pumps the fry to net pens off shore where they are fed using commercial salmon feeds until they reach a target weight of at least 0.5 grams. From there, the smolts are released to complete their life cycle in the open sea. This process is known as ocean ranching. The adults, which average about 3.5 pounds each, return the following summer, and the process starts all over again. Average adult returns to the hatchery are approximately 13 million adult pink, and 160,000 coho salmon. After harvesting a small percentage of the return for cost recovery and brood stock, the remainder is harvested primarily by the commercial purse seine fishermen. While the hatchery walking tour is open all summer, the absolute best time to visit is during one of the salmon runs. Pink salmon return to the hatchery in July and coho (silver) salmon return in August. This also allows for the best opportunity to view Alaska wildlife as all manner of animals come to the hatchery to feed on returning salmon. You can see seals, sea lions, black and brown bears, eagles and other birds and much more. There is a large paved parking lot located just west of the hatchery site with plenty of parking for guests as there is no parking allowed on the site. The walking tour is wheelchair accessible and paved. While there is no fishing allowed directly in front of the hatchery, many anglers catch their limit of wild Alaska salmon on the east and west sides. It is a must-see attraction in Valdez.
We just left the hatchery. There is nothing to see there until late July. That’s when the bears, seals, eagles etc return
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The Solomon Gulch Hatchery
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