OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife released Monday an investigation into last December’s generator failure at Minter Creek Hatchery that resulted in the loss of millions of salmon fry.
The investigative reports, conducted by outside contractors looked into both the technical cause of the generator failure as well as the hatchery staff’s response, said Kelly Susewind, WDFW Director.
“Although hatchery staff responded promptly when the incident occurred and worked tirelessly to save fish at the hatchery, there were missteps along the way,” Susewind said. “We’ve learned a lot from this and are addressing shortcomings identified by the contractors.”
On Dec. 14, 2018, a windstorm knocked out power to the Minter Creek Hatchery in Pierce County. The hatchery’s industrial-sized generator – which would have provided backup power to the pump supplying water to fish incubators – didn’t start. Investigators concluded the generator failed due to a loose or cracked connection with the battery.
The faulty battery connection could have been detected and repaired “under normal conditions” had staff routinely tested and inspected the generator, according to the investigation.
Within days of the incident, Kelly Cunningham, acting assistant director of WDFW’s fish program, instructed hatchery managers across the state to increase the frequency of generator testing going forward.
“I believe Minter is an isolated incident, but I’ve asked staff to take additional precautions to keep hatchery generators in good condition,” Cunningham said.
Based on the investigation, WDFW additionally is making sure hatchery staff statewide have sufficient training in generator operations and have well-communicated contingency plans in place, Cunningham said.
“We’re committed to making improvements to safeguard against another incident like the one at Minter Creek,” Cunningham said.
The department has disciplined three Minter Creek employees for not keeping the generator in working order.
WDFW has also taken steps to replace the fish lost due to the power outage. In late December, WDFW received federal approval to use 2.26 million excess fish from six other hatcheries to offset the loss at Minter.
The department initially reported losing about 6.2 million Chinook salmon fry. However, a more robust inventory in the following months showed the loss to be roughly 4.1 million fish.
The department operates 80 hatcheries across Washington and raises 68 million Chinook salmon annually.