Storm damage at fish hatchery could impact sport fishing, orca food source

KITSAP PENINSULA, Wash. – A salmon hatchery on the Kitsap Peninsula is still recovering after last week’s wild wind and rain storm.

Millions of fish died after a power outage at the Minter Creek Hatchery and the loss could have an impact on not only commercial and sport fishing but our endangered orca.

“This is one of the vertical incubators of White River Chinook that survived,” said Jim Jenkins from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Jenkins and his team at the Pierce County hatchery continue to assess the damage and count the fish who may still have a chance to survive.

“To lose them is a major setback,” added Jenkins.

It all Friday when the hatchery lost power. What’s worse, the backup generator failed – and without that generator, the hatchery couldn’t keep water flowing over the fish. Without that flowing water, the fish here were in deep trouble.

“When the water stops the oxygen demand goes up, the oxygen supply doesn’t return and suffocation starts,” he said.

As many as 6.2 million chinook salmon fry didn’t have enough oxygen to breathe. And while it’s a big blow to the operation the lasting impact may not be fully felt in several years when these survivors return to spawn.

Plus, the impact could mean more trouble for orca already struggling to find ample food.

“Everyone in the food chain, from microorganisms in the streams all the way to the killer whale,” he said.

The Washington State Department of fish and wildlife is now working with NOAA and tribal governments to work on a solution to soften the blow for the fish returning to spawn in four to five years.

The state is also looking to improve procedures to minimize the same power loss from happening again.

The good news, WDFW work crews say they were able to save the entire chum program, 600-thousand coho yearlings and more than a million coho eggs. But the true impact of losing more than 6-million chinook fry may not be felt for years.

“Without the salmon in the Pacific Northwest you lose a huge piece of our culture, economy and contribution these animals make to  the natural world," he said.