Researchers tag steelhead smolts for research at Little Port Walter
The "White House," built in 1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, stands over Little Port Walter in view of the Baranof Mountains.
Story last updated at 8/12/2009 - 1:16 pm
NOAA's Little Port Walter Marine Station on Baranof Island in Southeast Alaska is celebrating 75 years of fisheries research. Established in 1934, it is the oldest year-around biological field station in Alaska.
"A record of observations gathered in one place over a long time is extremely valuable science," said Doug DeMaster, director of NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center. "At Little Port Walter we have long time series of data on salmon, herring and other species that are invaluable for understanding the effects of climate change on our fisheries."
Little Port Walter lies in lower Chatham Strait 20 miles from Cape Ommaney and the open Gulf of Alaska. Sashin Creek, a stream used by several species of salmon including steelhead, flows near the marine station.
This summer NOAA scientists and support staff have been researching the feasibility of identifying individual stocks and families of Chinook salmon in fishery harvests. The information would potentially help managers make harvest decisions, rebuild depleted stocks and sort out the geographic origins of the harvested salmon, which would address issues that arise under the U.S./Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty.
Alaska's next generation of fisheries scientists is gaining experience at Little Port Walter. Five students from the University of Alaska Southeast Design Discover Research program and two students from the Alaska Native Science & Engineering program spent a week focused on hands-on research and field research techniques this summer. Little Port Walter staff has also hosted NOAA-funded students from the Holling's Scholars Program, exposing them to freshwater and marine ecology, aquaculture, long term ocean monitoring, fish physiology, and marine mammal science.
Little Port Walter has maintained an official daily weather record for NOAA's Weather Service since 1936. It is one of the wettest recording stations in North America, averaging 240 inches of precipitation annually.
In the marine station's earliest years, research focused on environmental factors that affect freshwater survival of pink salmon. In the following decades, that broadened into research on the ecology, population dynamics, and life histories of other salmon, steelhead, marine fishes, and invertebrates. Little Port Walter researchers have also studied shrimp, herring, rockfish, marine corals, oceanography, climatic changes, effects of droughts and floods on fish stocks, and the intertidal ecology of spawning salmon.
In the early 1970's interest turned towards salmon hatcheries. NOAA, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and private hatchery groups worked together on enhancing the production and survival of salmon stocks. Hatchery technologies developed at Little Port Walter include floating raceways, estuarine net pens for short term rearing of salmon fry, substrate incubation systems, smolt vaccination for improved marine survival, and stocking salmon fry in hanging lakes for natural smolt production.
Little Port Walter station includes a marine dock and float system and a permanent fish counting weir at the mouth of Sashin Creek, a warehouse, two residences, the three-story headquarters building (with a galley, dormitory, small laboratory, radio room, and apartment), two wet laboratories, an experimental fish culture system with floating freshwater raceways and marine net pens, a generator building, an oil storage and containment structure, an incinerator, a NOAA weather station, and other support buildings.
Wakefield Fisheries built a processing plant at Little Port Walter in 1917. In 1934 the Bureau of Fisheries began salmon research there and in 1938 Congress passed legislation establishing a fisheries laboratory at the site. By the late 1930's the Bureau and Civilian Conservation Corps were at work building a permanent weir on Sashin Creek.
In 1940 the main headquarters structure, the "White House," was built with help from the Civilian Conservation Corps and the U.S. Forest Service, using bricks from the abandoned Fisheries plant. The "White House" was last renovated in 2004.
At least one fisheries technician has occupied Little Port Walter year-around since 1940. Currently two NOAA employees are on-site year around, with other scientists, contractors, volunteers and personnel from other agencies or the private sector swelling the ranks to about 20 individuals at peak times. In the past 75 years Little Port Walter research has produced over 200 scientific publications, documents, and reports on marine resources of this region.
More information about Little Port Walter can be found at http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/ABL/MSI/msi_lpw.htm. View more photos at http://www.capitalcityweekly.com.