Estimated 40,000 smolt die in holding area at Fishing Hole
By Sean Pearson
According to Nicky Szarzi, fisheries biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the large mortality event occurred sometime after the 90,000 Coho smolt were delivered. She indicated that close to half of the stocked fish were lost.
“The deaths are slowing now, but at this point, they’re not actually taking food,” Szarzi said. “At this young age, the fish are fairly fragile and conditions must be just right in order for them to survive and thrive.”
While it may still be too early to determine what went wrong, Szarzi indicated that there may have been a couple of factors at work in the smolt’s demise.
“We’re really not sure if they were just not ready yet for salt water, or if a faulty oxygen meter allowed too much O2 to be infused into the fish holding area,” Szarzi said. “Either way, all we can really do at this point is just work with what we have left.”
Many physical changes occur in a young salmon to help it make the transition from a freshwater to saltwater existence. The fish’s gills and kidneys begin to change so that they can process salt water. Coho salmon smolts remain close to shore for several months, feeding primarily on plankton. They gradually move into deeper, saltier water, and switch to a diet of small fish.
These Fishing Hole silvers were purchased from Cook Inlet Aquaculture at a cost of approximately $25,000 for 50,000 smolt. Officials at ADF&G began soliciting help for the late-run silver salmon since 2003, when their own Anchorage hatchery could no longer stock the run.
In response, Szarzi stepped in as advisor of the “Friends of the Fishing Hole” and began looking for alternate resources for funding the fish stock, including the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
“We originally purchased and expected about 50,000 fish, but Cook Inlet Aquaculture was very generous and brought us 90,000,” Szarzi said. “So, even though we lost quite a few fish, we hope to release almost as many as we originally planned.”
Szarzi said they are trying to keep the remaining smolt healthy, and will try to feed them a few extra days.
“We want to help them bulk up a bit before they have to head out on their own,” she explained. “All we can really do is monitor them and try to make sure they are O.K.”
The smolt are scheduled for release on Friday.
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