Club Expedition to Alaska “Day 10”

Club Expedition to Alaska “Day 10”
25th August (Saturday) – Eaglet Bay to Esther Island

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We had a good start to the day with a relatively dry breakfast and pack up having, in the end, been well above the tide line (despite the concerns of some on the previous night). This is a campsite I would certainly use again.

WALLY NOERENBERG HATCHERY

The Wally Noerenberg Hatchery (WNH) is the second PWSAC-owned hatchery located in Lake Bay on the southern end of Esther Island in Prince William Sound, approximately 20 miles east of Whittier.  The hatchery was built in 1985 with monies borrowed from the Alaska Fisheries Enhancement Revolving Loan Fund.  WNH is currently permitted for 148 million pink, 165 million chum, 4 million coho, and 4 million Chinook salmon eggs annually.  Sockeye salmon were also cultured at WNH in the past and was transferred to the Main Bay Hatchery in 1990.

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Klint Hischke, WNH Hatchery Manager leads a permanent, year-round staff of eight along with a seasonal staff of 12 during the summer months.  Klint has worked with PWSAC (Remote Programs, CCH and WNH) since 2013.  He received his B.S. in Water Resource-Fisheries with a minor in Aquaculture from University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.

All the Hatchery Managers enjoy giving tours, showing off their hatcheries and the fish, so please stop by if you are in the area.  All the hatcheries can be contacted on VHF 16.

This marine park is located on the southern end of Esther Island, including Lake and Quillian Bays. Lake Bay houses one of the world’s largest fish hatcheries. You can also carefully navigate to the head of the bay for an anchorage. A hike along the eastern edge of the lagoon and through a low, forested pass brings you to Esther Lake. The land is too wet and uneven for camping.

 

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The Wally H. Noerenberg Fish Hatchery is owned and operated by the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation (PWSAC). PWSAC is a private, non-profit corporation operating under a special permit with Alaska State Parks. Fresh water can be obtained from the floating dock near the hatchery. Mooring buoys in front of the hatchery may be used if available.

During commercial openings, the fishing fleet crowds the area and you are advised to stay clear of the nets and boat traffic. During the height of the fish run, black bears can be seen near the hatchery.

 

We left Eaglet bay just before 9:00am with a flexible plan as to our final destination for the day. The weather forecast for that day was fine, but the following day was looking wet and windy. That was going to influence the decision as to where and when we camped that night.

The first part of the route was basically hand railing the coast to Ragged Point and on to Squaw Bay, before a short crossing to East flank island and then over to Esther Island.  We would then hand-rail the coast to the inlet, which is where the fishery and sea plane base are located. We intended to make the decision as to whether we camped on East Flank or continue to a better location to weather the expected storm.

Having left the campsite bay, we had some good mountain views between the broken clouds at times.   We then passed the current site of the oyster farm. This is just a load of mooring buoys with chains on which they grow the oysters.

We were accompanied by the odd sea lion but made good time and were on course to land at East Flank dead on 11:00 for elevenses. Just as we were about to leave the right-hand coast, a bear was spotted feeding at a stream outlet. This gave the good photographers with big cameras an excellent opportunity for some good shots. They got really close with some stealth paddling and were fortunate to be down wind. This I think set the bear count to 7. After about a quarter hour the bear moved on and so did we. We landed at the north of East Flank island for a break and while we were resting we were entertained by a couple of feeding sea lions. Yet another photo opportunity.

From here we crossed to Esther Island and followed the coast. This section of the journey was relatively uneventful, but we could hear the sea lion colony out on Egg rock and saw some boat traffic in the main shipping lane.  The tour boats headed out to see the sea lion colony.

We eventually made Esther Island for a late lunch and made our first contact with humans from outside of our group during this trip. As we entered the inlet at Esther Island we spotted a couple of other sea kayakers.  Keith engaged them in conversation about their trip while assessing the landing and camping area, which was located in a side bay just around the corner from the fishery.

They turned out to be a couple of local paddlers setting out to cross over to Valdez and were intending to take up to four weeks. They moved their boats up and we all landed on the small beach area and climbed up the ladder to the lower platform and had lunch while we talked with them. They then left, so we decided then that this should be our base for the night and the next day as we would likely be storm bound. The only real other option being at least another 3 hours of paddling. Camping platforms where bagged and the camp set up.

Once sorted Frankie took a wander up to the top of the campsite boardwalk and had a close encounter with a bear, which did not seem to be bothered by our presence. Others went exploring to the waterfall and took photos while it was not raining.

Just as most of us where about to call it a night and where heading to our tents, Mark and Rodger came back from a walk they had been on to the fishery (Wally Noerenberg Hatchery – see opposite). They said they had seen at least another 8 bears. With this exciting news a group of us set of with them to see. We did this with caution, taking bear spray etc in cases they were right about the large group of bears.  After the walk around the island the previous week we choose to stay on established paths and not to detour. From the top of the camping area there was an established board walk path to the fishery.  Once there we too were able to spend time watching 6 to 8 black bears fishing along with sea lions that had jumped past the fishery boom and were just feasting on the salmon trying to swim upstream past the rapids to the lake. We watched salmon try (and in most cases fail) to climb the waterfall and the bears crossing over from the wood to the river totally ignoring our presence.

Eventually we headed back to bed as dusk fell.

 

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Ian Bell     
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