Lake Bay is the site of a salmon hatchery on the southern coast of Esther Island in northwestern Prince William Sound, and the deglaciated fjord extends 1.5 miles (2.4 km) northwest from Wells Passage, about 63 miles (101 km) west-southwest of Valdez and 20 miles (32 km) east of Whittier, Alaska. Esther Island was named in 1794 by Captain George Vancouver and is shown on Vancouver’s chart but is not mentioned in any text; however, the island may have been named after the mother of Lieutenant Peter Puget who was the commander of the expedition tender HMS Chatham. Lake Bay is a local name referring to Esther Lake, the principal source of freshwater streaming into the estuary. Prince William Sound generally forms a three-sided bowl with high mountains of the Chugach Range on the north, east, and west sides, where glaciers still cover most of the landscape above about 2,300 feet (700 m). The highest peaks with summit elevations up to 13,094 feet (3,991 m) lie at the northwestern edge of the sound. The rocks in Prince William Sound are part of a massive accretionary complex called the Chugach-Prince William composite terrane that comprises metasedimentary rocks that were intruded by granitic plutons during the Paleocene to Eocene periods. During the last glaciation, ice filled most of the embayments on the southern sides of the coastal mountains forming the present mountainous landscape.
The earliest humans in the region probably found a landscape dominated by glacial ice, bare rock, glacial moraines, and outwash plains vegetated by sedges and thickets of willows and alder. It is likely that the northwestern portion of Prince William Sound was resource-limited and provided only marginal habitat. Most of the cultural history of Prince William Sound is known from excavations at Palugvik and Uqcluvit, prehistorical villages situated in southeastern and northwestern Prince William Sound respectively. The Uqcluvit site is at the northern end of Esther Passage and the village was occupied from about 3800 years ago to historic times. Very little is known about these people except that they hunted sea mammals, used red ocher, and were familiar with slate grinding to make tools and weapons. Historically, Prince William Sound was occupied by eight geographic groups of Chugach Sugpiaq. Although these groups shared the same language and culture, each was politically independent, with its own leader and principal village. Today, Esther Island is uninhabited except for about 30 residents operating the Wally Noerenberg Salmon Hatchery on the northern shore of Lake Bay at the outlet stream of Esther Lake.
The earliest recorded commercial catch of salmon in Prince William Sound was made in 1893. It is probable, however, that salmon were taken here commercially as early as 1889, when the first cannery was operated at Odiak Slough near Cordova. From 1897 to 1904, the number of canneries taking salmon from the sound was never more than 2, and in the next 10 years, only 1 was in operation. After 1914, coinciding with the military demand for food during World War I, the intensity of fishing increased with the establishment of other canneries in the sound, all of which exploited the pink salmon fisheries. The character of fishing changed with the introduction of gasoline engines and from gill nets and beach seines to the use of purse seines and fish traps. In 1920, there were 15 canneries, operating 54 beach seines, 63 purse seines, 217 gill nets, and 47 traps in Prince William Sound. During the 1970s, salmon runs were in decline throughout the state, and in 1971, Alaska’s hatchery program was developed to protect the fisheries from cyclical weaknesses in wild salmon returns. Today, five regional aquaculture associations from Southeast Alaska to Kodiak Island produce salmon via the wild salmon enhancement program for the common property fisheries. The Wally Noerenberg Salmon Hatchery in Lake Bay is among the world’s largest, and one of five hatcheries owned and operated by the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation. The hatchery raises pink, chum, and coho salmon. Read more here and here. Explore more of Lake Bay and Esther Island here: