SALMON HATCHERIES, 1891-1959"
1979, while preparing her comprehensive history of Alaskan salmon hatcheries,
Patricia Roppel interviewed my father, Alphonse Kemmerich, both in person and
through telephone conversations.
When I was selecting pictures for my
"Yes Bay Tale" web page, I realized that many of the pictures matched up well
with excerpts from Pat Roppel's book. So, the following is a composite of Ms.
Roppel's text and my parents' pictures.
Alaska’s Salmon Hatcheries, 1891-1959,
published in 1982, is available
from the Alaska Historical Commission. In their description of this book they
well-written and succinct history of Alaska’s Pacific salmon hatcheries and salmon
industry from 1891 to 1959. Using a wealth of little-known primary and secondary
sources, Roppel traces the growth and development of Alaska's salmon hatcheries
in the face of prevailing anti-conservation attitudes of the day. A central theme
is the roles played by the federal government and the salmon industry in using
fisheries regulations and artificial propagation to counter the adverse effects
of commercial fishing on fish stocks and prevent the depletion and destruction
of the Alaska salmon fishery."
am grateful to Pat Roppel for granting me permission to use the following text
and illustrations from Alaska’s Salmon Hatcheries, 1891-1959.
took the first positive step toward federal participation in the Alaskan hatchery
program when it passed a sundry civil bill on March 3, 1905. This bill appropriated
$50,000 for construction and operation of one or more salmon hatcheries in Alaska
by the Bureau of Fisheries.
Bureau immediately began selection of a site with the view that the hatchery must
be operational by the time spawn could be taken in the fall. H.C. Fassett, a Bureau
employee familiar with Alaska, recommended three sites: 1) the lower end of the
Wood River in Bristol Bay, 2) Afognak Island and 3) Yes Bay in Southeast Alaska.
Afognak Island had already been set aside by Presidential Proclamation as a fish
culture reserve, and Yes Bay had been temporarily reserved for the same purpose.
Secretary of Commerce and Labor, under whose supervision the Commissioner of Fisheries
operated approved the proposed hatchery site at Yes Bay and had the solicitor
of his department advise the President of the United States to permanently reserve
the land. This Presidential Proclamation, made February 1, 1906, set aside portions
of Yes Bay as a hatchery reserve. The reserve was described as both land and water
area, including the lake and its catchment basin, its outlet and portions of the
shoreline in Yes Bay and Back Bay
selection of Yes Bay was based on several factors. First was its proximity to
established transportation routes, a major advantage in 1905. Yes Bay was only
45 miles from Ketchikan which was one of the principal ports of Southeast Alaska.
Steamers to and from Puget Sound arrived and departed daily for half of the year
and two or three times a week during the rest of the year. An established run
by a mailboat also existed between Ketchikan and Yes Bay. Another factor was that
the city would provide a temporary labor force and a sawmill and all necessary
grades of lumber in stock. These factors lowered costs and saved time.
"Yes Bay itself had many
advantages. The bay is a narrow arm of the sea leading into the mainland of Alaska.
The Yes River, flowing into the bay, has a large lake as its source, first called
Yes Lake and later McDonald lake. The major tributary at its head is known as
Walker Creek, but was called Yes River and Hatchery Creek during hatchery operation.
This creek, with a falls, seemed ideal for a water and power supply. It was, in
addition, the natural spawning ground for a large run of sockeye salmon.
Pauline and Al Kemmerich, at salt
water end of tram
the hill you climb as you leave salt water dock. That'll take your pounds off,
Snooks [Pauline's sister]. You too, Mom & Pop. Going toward the lake (Lake McDonald).
--- Pauline Kemmerich
"Fassett foresaw some
drawbacks. One was the necessity for construction of a tramway from salt water
to the lake, a distance of less than a mile at one hundred feet of elevation.
He also anticipated that Alaska Packers Association might complain if fishing
in Yes Bay, upon which they relied for a large portion of their sockeye catch,
was closed to them.
near mouth of Yes River
company did not operate the cannery which was located at the mouth of the Yes
River. This cannery was first operated in 1889 and became a part of the Pacific
Packing and Navigation Company consolidation, a firm which failed. Yes Bay was
thus opened to fishing by another company: in this case APA. At about the time
the hatchery site was selected the bankrupt concern was purchased by Northwestern
Fisheries Company, a company which operated hatcheries in Alaska. The purchase
prompted Fassett to include a warning to the Commissioner that Northwestern Fisheries
Company might feel that they had vested rights to a hatchery site on the lake
selected under the 1900 act. This proved to be a needless precaution as the company
sold the Yes Bay cannery to Charles Burkhardt and Company, who operated it under
various names and who showed no interest in operating a hatchery.
the Yes Bay location was selected, Claudis Wallich was appointed to supervise
the construction. Wallich, superintendent of the Bureau's Clackamas, Oregon hatchery
and a former contractor and builder, was accomplished in fish culture.
and F.M. Chamberlain, at that time a naturalist from the Albatross, sailed
for Alaska by commercial steamer on May 18, 1905, a little over ten weeks after
the appropriation was made. Chamberlain was assigned to make a biological survey
of the Yes Bay region. It was the first time either man had been to the site selected
for the hatchery. After the pair arrived at Yes Bay, it was necessary to carry
a rowboat to the lake and row four and a half miles to the head of the lake where
they pitched camp.
looked for a satisfactory water source for three days, but no springs could be
located. Wallich and Chamberlain could not find anyone who had been to the lake
in the winter so no information was available as to whether any stream remained
open. Water temperatures were tested in several streams and with slight variations
all were found to be the same as the inlet stream, Walker Creek, i.e., 52 degrees
F. Wallich finally recommended the water from this stream be used in the hatchery,
saying .. "We can scarcely see why the water in which fish naturally deposit
their spawn should be unfavorable for hatchery purposes, yet this seems to be
an Alaskan prejudice." Wallich did not question the water's purity or quantity,
but was unsure of its reliability during the winter.
above the Yes Bay Hatchery and our water supply"
--- Pauline Kemmerich
from left to right:
1) mess house, 2) upper bunk house, 3) commissary building,
4) lower bunk house, 5) small lumber shed, 6) Fish Culturist house.
scow in front"
--- Alphonse Kemmerich
this intitial investigation, Wallich and Chamberlain made necessary preparations
for construction of a hatchery at this remote site and returned with a crew and
the Albatross several weeks later. The crew lived in quarters provided
by the cannery at first, but finally moved to improvised quarters at the hatchery
site in August.
first project was a transportation system. The navigator of the Albatross made
a number of sights for laying out a one-half mile long tramway from Back Bay to
McDonald Lake. A gasoline launch and sufficient materials to build a 12 foot by
24 foot scow to haul supplies were taken over the completed tramway. This system
of tramway and launches with barges was upgraded, increased, and maintained during
the life of the station.
completion of the transportation system, the water system was begun at the hatchery
site. A trail 10 feet by 4,250 feet was slashed through the brush to the pool
below the falls. The navigator again helped by laying out the flume's path. The
wooden plank flume was four feet wide, one foot deep, and 1,200 feet long with
a capacity of 4,000 to 5,000 gallons per minute. It was constructed through the
creek bottom and along the edge of the bank protected by riprap. When the flume
was nearly completed in September, Wallich took 7,440,000 eggs from a large run
of sockeye salmon. Hatchery baskets, which had been constructed by the crew, were
filled with eggs and placed in the upper part of the flume to incubate. These
eggs were moved to the hatchery later in the winter when the building was completed.
hatchery, designed by a Bureau of Fisheries architect and engineer, was typical
of Bureau hatcheries in the United States. Hatchery troughs were 16 feet long
by 17 inches wide of 1.5 inch lumber, and were placed in double rows of three
troughs each with 1.5 inch fall between troughs. Standard egg baskets were used
in the troughs. Construction costs by April, 1906 were $24,130.09 and did not
include the steam heating plant, which was estimated to cost $1,000.
with the location of the new hatchery were immediately evident. Wallich's and
Chamberlain's assessment that the level, low-lying land was not subject to serious
overflow proved incorrect. The men moved to the hatchery building when all quarters
and the messhouse had two feet of water over the floors in November, 1905. On
the report to the Bureau's headquarters in Washington, D.C. an official wrote
in the margin: "Good Engineering!"
time the water was so high workers used a rowboat to get from quarters to the
messhouse. Floods not only caused inconveniences but also jeopardized hatchery
operations. The flume raised during a flood in November 1907 and for two days
there was danger of it washing away. Mud from the intake pool washed into the
troughs but apparently did no damage. Thirty feet of flume washed away in 1917
but a pump was used until the flume was repaired.
turned out to be the most serious problem. Severe winters occurred in 1905 and
1909, and the open flume froze solid both times, although no eggs were lost. Men
worked day and night chopping a notch in the ice so that water could reach the
hatchery. About 1,000 gallons per minute were normally needed for the hatchery.
Only 500 gallons per minute were used in the winter when the water was near freezing.
Attempts were made to improve the water supply system but this task proved to
be formidable. All changes and new construction in the facility had to be approved
in Washington, D.C. and all funds came from Congressional appropriations. Against
these odds, a battle began to replace the flume with a pipeline.
pipeline was finally installed .......when the station was rebuilt in 1920. Considerable
construction and repair essential to proper maintenance of the station were undertaken.
When it appeared the flume had reached the full extent of its endurance at the
end of the fiscal year 1919, the annual hatchery appropriation was used for installation
of the pipeline. This gave the hatchery a water supply with ample reserve for
future expansion. An allowance was made for furnishing power for a lighting plant.
The station was closed to fish culture work in 1920, and a new foundation placed
under the hatchery, replacement hatchery troughs installed, and 6,000 feet of
16 inch by 18 inch wood stave pipe laid, 2,300 feet of it on trestles.
crossing over high trestle"
--- Alphonse Kemmerich
culture work resumed at the Yes Bay hatchery in 1921. Unfortunately the pipeline
traded one set of winter woes for another. Employees no longer cut ice out of
the flume to assure a flow of water. Instead when anchor ice formed in the intake
pool, the crew chopped ice, often throughout the night. This effort was necessary
throughout the life of the station.
facilities were heated with wood, so the employees spent much time logging, cutting
rounds, splitting and distributing wood to all buildings. About 200 cords of wood
were used each season in later years.
Weir in Yes River (Walker Creek) near
the site created problems from ice and floods, Wallich and Chamberlain were correct
in their assessment of the proximity of the spawning grounds. Walker Creek had
the major run of sockeye salmon in the lake. A rack or weir, over 200 feet long,
was erected each July. Piling were driven and a permanent apron was embedded in
the stream in 1920 and replaced in 1929. The wooden slatted rack pieces were numbered
and so arranged that when taken out in the fall, they would be in regular order
for use the following season. Despite every precaution, some years the rack washed
out during high water.
seines, 450 feet long, were used to capture the fish below the rack. The seine
was strung from the rack, then a crew of 11 or 12 men, each clad in waders, pulled
the seine around the fish. Alphonse Kemmerich, a former superintendent, remembers
that six million eggs were spawned in 1932 from one seine haul. Once captured,
fish were tested for ripeness and green fish released. Standard spawning procedures
adopted by the Bureau of Fisheries were used. The spent carcasses were thrown
into the lake until 1914 when fish were salted in barrels for use as fish food.
salmon were the major species from which eggs were taken. From 1907-1916 the superintendent
started taking sockeye eggs on September 1 to 3. Later superintendents usually
started the second week in September. The spawning season depended upon many factors,
but generally ran from four to six weeks.
annual closure of Yes Bay was established by the Presidential Proclamation of
1906 which set aside the site for a hatchery reserve. It stated that fishing was
permitted only when, in the opinion of the hatchery superintendent, salmon had
entered Yes Bay in sufficient numbers to supply the maximum number of eggs required.
The superintendent could stipulate the kinds and amounts of gear to be used, places
they could be employed, and times fishing could be done. During the run of salmon
each season, a deputy from the hatchery stationed at the bay saw that regulations
commercial fishing took place in Yes Bay only under the supervision of the hatchery
superintendent. When in his judgment the run exceeded the numbers required for
hatchery purposes, commercial fishing was allowed. During the first few seasons
not enough fish entered the lake, and a shortage of eggs occurred because the
number of fish entering the lake could only be estimated by the apparent abundance
in the bay and the stream. It became the practice to keep the bay closed.
commercial fishing, however, did not extend past the narrow mouth of Yes Bay.
The companies, unable to fish in the bay, placed two floating traps, one on either
side of the mouth. These two traps were not the only ones which could intercept
sockeyes bound for Yes Bay, but were undoubtedly most effective for fishing sockeye
salmon destined for the Yes River (Map 11).
Leaving Yes Bay Hatchery
end of Lake McDonald
Yes Bay hatchery operated eight more years after the traps were removed.
order for the closure of the hatchery arrived on July 23, 1933, about six weeks
after a visit from a newly appointed Commissioner of Fisheries. All fry were liberated
immediately, despite the fact that a serious epidemic of disease was in progress.
The station was left that winter in the care of Vincent Boucher, the foreman.
Then, in one month during the summer of 1934, a few men were able to dismantle
the station, barge the equipment the length of the lake, haul it over the tramway
and load it on ships. These same tasks in the reverse direction took many men
a period of a quarter of a century to accomplish. The last entry in the station
logbook dated September 24, 1934 was truly a death knell "This station is now
closed and abandoned as far as the Bureau is concerned."
of the property was shipped to the Bureau' s fur seal stations on the Pribiloff
Islands. Hatchery equipment such as the new yellow cedar troughs were transferred
to Clackamas, Oregon and to other Bureau hatcheries. Two hundred and forty such
troughs had been newly constructed in 1930-31. It took Ketchikan Spruce Mills
nearly three years to gather 250 planks, 16 inches wide by 16 to 18 feet long,
dressed and free of knots.
remainder of the property: the tramway, pipeline, launch, scow, and boats, the
donkey-house on the tramway, and all buildings, were turned over to the U.S. Forest
Service which put in a Civilian Conservations Corps camp. The majority of the
buildings were dismantled and the lumber taken to Ketchikan.
was one last detail. Franklin D. Roosevelt revoked the executive order reserving
the land and water for a fish propagation site on May 31, 1935. The area was declared
part of the Tongass National Forest.
Roppert ended her book with an Epilogue. Some of her comments pertain to Yes Bay
and Lake McDonald:
aquaculture associations, in cooperation with the Alaska Department of Fish and
Game and the U.S. Forest Service, have been involved in a program to enhance sockeye
runs through lake fertilization to provide more food for fry in the system - something
considered at Afognak Lake in the 1930s. Studies to determine the value of fertilizing
Lake McDonald (site of the former Yes Bay hatchery) are in progress. Other sockeye
systems, where no past hatchery operated, are being considered throughout the
state. It is too early to determine if lake fertilization will be a viable alternative
to hatcheries for sockeye salmon enhancement.
battles have continued during most legislative sessions since 1976 to refine the
legislation permitting private non-profit aquaculture - a concept unique to Alaska.
Regional associations and state agencies continue to be confronted with new, unforeseen
problems brought about by this pioneer program. It remains to be seen whether
this system of state and private non-profit hatcheries developed in the 1970s
will be any more successful or have more longevity than the programs which were
developed in the past."
Roppel chose a quotation from my father for the title page of her book and in
our recent e-mails she said:
was the best comment I heard in the time I researched the book. Mr. Kemmerich
should have been proud to have said it. To me it is very insightful to the kind
of professional he was."
also told me:
"He was such a gentleman, so knowledgeable, and so
helpful. Of all the people involved with the hatchery book, he was my absolute
title page of Pat Roppel's book is at the beginning of this page, but the writing
is too small to be easily read. Here is the quotation from my father:
all is said and done, and all criticisms on early hatchery procedures and techniques
are made, it is true part of these were well founded, but in the main, we made
those mistakes due to lack of experience. We were groping in the dark and it simply
took time. They didn't send a man to the moon without tremendous research. In
the same vein, given the knowledge we have now, scientific and practical, salmon
hatcheries, particularly in Alaska where the natural environment hasn't been tampered
with, should be highly successful."
of tramway and main pipe line in back of hatchery. Al standing on tramway"
--- Pauline Kemmerich
everything at the Yes Bay hatchery was dismantled and removed from the
site. A few structures were left--one of them apparently being the Superintendent's
house where my family lived during their last years at Yes Bay. Most likely Stan
Bishop and his family stayed in the Superintendent's house in 1933 or 1934 after
the property was abandoned. (See Stan's
account of this.)
Diane Hack, one of the owners of the Yes Bay Lodge was kind enough to share her
photos of the fish hatchery site on Lake McDonald--as it appeared in 1988 when
she and her husband flew up to the lake for some fishing.
Stan Bishop said "If you relax five minutes, why, Mother Nature has already
taken over; you get either booted or eased out someway or other. Stuff will grow
up around you to where you’ve got to get out."
Hack's photos are vivid proof of what Stan had learned about Southeast Alaska.
Barbara Kemmerich Halliday, November, 2004
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otherwise noted, text and photos are the property of
Glenn and Barbara Halliday, © 2004