Unger enjoys hatchery life in Alaska

Born in July of 1973 to Bob and Darla Wright, Cindy Unger was raised in Ridgway and graduated from Ridgway Area High School in 1991.In high school, Unger played on the basketball, volleyball and track teams and was even involved in the school musical, 'Anything Goes.'“Being part of that cast was truly one of my fondest memories of high school,” Under said.Following high school, Unger attended Lock Haven University and received a B.S. in Biology.“I have always enjoyed the outdoors and Biology was a field that I could find a career in that would allow me to work outdoors,” Unger said. “It didn't happen right away, but when I did find that job, it couldn't have been more perfect.“There isn't anything more true than the saying, 'Love what you do'.”In June of 2003, Unger decided to move to Alaska to put her degree to use. The idea of moving to Alaska came in 2002 when she visited her brother, Neil, who worked with Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation at Main Bay Hatchery on Prince William Sound.“It was then that I knew this was the work I was meant to do,” Unger said. “So I went home and applied and in the summer of 2003 I made my move to Alaska to pursue a career with the hatcheries.”It was there that she worked at Main Bay Hatchery for three years, then moving to a remote hatchery outside of Juneau.“After a year and a half there, we knew the Prince William Sound was where we wanted to be,” Unger said. “Thankfully, we were able to move back and begin work at Wally Noerenberg Hatchery (WNH) on Esther Island. We have been living here for three years and counting and loving the island life.”WNH is a private non-profit hatchery that currently produces three species of Pacific salmon; 148 million pink, 165 million chum and four million coho. WNH has a permanent staff of eight on-site year-round and a seasonal staff of 20 during the summer.Every year, the adult fish of each species return and a certain number are collected for brood and the remainder are caught by subsistance, personal use, sport fishing and commercial fishermen. “The hatchery personnel collect the sperm and the eggs from the fish that were collected for brood,” Unger said. “The eggs are fertilized and placed in incubators and cared for by the hatchery culturists for approximately seven months.“At that time, the fry are out-migrated to pens in the ocean and fed for one to three months before being released into the wild.”Depending on the species, they will return within one to three years and the cycle will repeat.“There is always work to be done year round,” Unger said. “Whether it's caring for the eggs, fry, cleaning up from a process or preparing for the next step in the cycle. “There is never a dull moment in hatchery life.”In June of 2007, Cindy married Rob Unger. She has two daughters, Joslyn is 22 months and Laken who is six months old. Since becoming a mother Cindy has temporarily retired from the hatchery life to become a stay-at-home mom, but hopes to return to work in the future.Unger tries to return back to Ridgway every year.“We haven't been back since May 2009, but we will be there for Thanksgiving and I can't wait,” Unger said. “Even though there are always changes in town, Ridgway still seems the same and feels very much like home.“Ridgway was a great place to grow up and I imagine it still is. Ridgway and Esther Island are similar in that the pace is laid back, the people are friendly and it seems like you know everyone.”