Cleanup in progress for 1,200 gallon oil spill at Kitoi Bay Hatchery

A 1,200 gallon oil spill occurred at the Kitoi Bay Hatchery on the southeastern end of Afognak Island late last week. According to Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association, which manages the hatchery, a crack in a small underground pipe was to blame.

Containment booms around Kitoi Bay Hatchery. (Photo courtesy Kelly Krueger/Sun’aq Tribe)

Trent Dodson is the production and operations manager for KRAA.

“What we suspect — of course, we have really no way of knowing — but what it looks like is possibly a bear leaned up against or brushed up or even just pushed on the pipeline where it goes into the ground on that elbow, and just tweaked it enough for it to break,” Dodson said.

The hatchery only pumps fuel through the pipe system about once a month, according to Dodson. The last pumping occurred last Wednesday, and hatchery staff noticed the oil sheen on the surface of the bay early Friday afternoon, he said.

The cracked pipe was replaced within a few hours of discovering the leak, but cleanup is still underway. Responders from the Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation arrived on Saturday morning, along with a crew from Alaska Chadux, an oil spill cleanup contractor.

Location of the crack in the fuel distribution line. (Photo courtesy Kristin Worman/Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

According to Coast Guard Public Affairs, the spill is being contained with about 1000 feet of floating containment barriers. Since the spill started on land before moving out to the ocean, the contaminated area is fairly close to shore, only about 6-10 feet from the beach, according to Dodson.

So far, they’ve relied mostly on absorbent pads to collect spilled fuel from the water surface. Dodson says they were hoping to start a more intensive flushing process today, but with the coming rain, that’s been postponed till next week.

The leak is right where the creek, which carries the hatchery’s salmon run, hits saltwater. The hatchery raises pink, chum, coho and sockeye salmon. Dodson says the timing was lucky that they didn’t have any salmon running in the creek this time of year, and no young fish being raised in the pens in the bay.

“Any fish that we have [are] on site or in raceways on land. We have eggs in the building,” he said. “So we don’t have anything as far as hatchery production out in the saltwater at this point.”

Kitoi Bay is home to endangered Stellar sea lions, as well as a number of other marine animals, but DEC Cook Inlet/Kodiak unit supervisor Lisa Krebs-Barsis says so far the environmental impact has been minimal.

“KRAA has been very responsive, and they have done everything that they’re supposed to do when there’s a release.”

At this time, the DEC has no plans to fine KRAA, she says. However, KRAA will be held financially responsible for the cleanup, according to the Coast Guard.

The hatchery’s top priority is to make sure the area around the salmon run is clean, but they’ll also be working with the DEC to “mitigate soil contamination” around the leak. The cleanup process is still in the “emergency” phase, and right now neither Dodson nor Krebs-Barsis have a good estimate for how long it will take.

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