After more than two years, Douglas Island Pink and Chum Inc. will reopen the doors of the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery to the public beginning on April 25, coinciding with the arrival of the first cruise ships of the 2022 season.
The staff of the hatchery is excited to welcome locals and out-of-towners back, said executive director Katie Harms.
“It feels great. It finally feels like we’re holding true to our mission,” Harms said in an interview. “We’ve been doing virtual learning opportunities but it always feels better to do in person learning.”
Beginning at 1 p.m. on Monday, the visitor’s center will reopen, giving guest the chance to see where the salmon are raised and released as the season gets started, Harms said.
“In 2019, we had around 90,000 visitors. We are not certain what will come this year. We know there’s a lot of people that will be coming, but we don’t know what tours will look like,” Harms said. “I think we should be able to meet that demand. Most of those visitors are from cruise ship guests but we offer local season passes.”
The hours will be slightly limited during April and May as the visitor’s center staffs up its seasonal positions, Harms said, but guests will still be able to see the fish in various stages of life and aquariums indoors. The touch tanks will also be operational.
“Hours are pretty variable in May. We’re short staffed, and we’re going through training in stuff,” Harms said. “As of now, we’re not offering behind the scenes tours, but that may change.”
While the permanent, year-round staff of the center have largely stayed onboard, Harms said, the hatchery is still seeking to fill its seasonal positions. The visitors center helps fund the center’s off-season work, Harms said.
“Basically, the summer operations in the visitors center pay for the education programs for the. school district in the offseason,” Harms said. “DIPAC is a private nonprofit; we’re not looking to make money, just to break even and continue.” DIPAC has been in operation for nearly half a century, Harms said, inhabiting a number of locations around Douglas and Juneau over the years.
“This facility was built in 1990. Our original hatchery was in our founder’s backyard in Douglas,” Harms said. “Sheep Creek was our other facility. We discontinued that one when we built the annex here.”
For now, DIPAC is focusing on keeping the hatchery operations steady while conditions in the Gulf of Alaska hopefully improve, leading to more fish returning, Harms said. The Gulf has been cooling down, Harms said, which may improve the returns, which would be a boon after a late 2020 landslide ruptured an Alaska Electric Light and Power freshwater feed line, possibly affecting the coho salmon, Harms said.
“We’re just hoping for better salmon returns. We’d like to get out of this lull we’ve been in,” Harms said. “It’s been a strange few years for conditions. It’s been colder which is good. It was so warm for a few years; it kind of seemed like it messed with the whole food chain.”
Harms said the center is also keeping an eye on the Alaska State Legislature.
“There’s a bill in the legislature right now, HB-80, which is trying to reimplement the sport fish license fee. Part of that revenue pays for our chinook program,” Harms said. “If that doesn’t pass, part of our chinook program could change in time.”
All in all, Harms said, employees at DIPAC are stoked to welcome guests when the doors open on Monday.
“We’re excited to welcome everyone back to what DIPAC does for the community and for Southeast Alaska as a whole,” Harms said. “I think people are pretty excited. We’ve got a lot of people with background knowledge. We’ve got a really good crew of permanent staff that are running the show.”
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.