A view of Ketchikan from the top of the Edmonds Street stairs.

A view of Ketchikan from the top of the Edmonds Street stairs.

There was a big stink in Ketchikan Wednesday. It was difficult to miss, and some residents wondered where it came from.

Steve Corporon is the City of Ketchikan Port and Harbors director, and is the acting Public Works director, too. He said the Harbormaster office got a call early Wednesday morning from someone worried that a visiting cruise ship might have dumped sewage into the Tongass Narrows.

“I just happened to be down on Berth 2, took quick walk along the Berth 2 and Berth 3 ship and didn’t see any evidence of any discharges or odor or anything, so we turned it over to Public Works,” he said. “The wastewater supervisor did a quick drive around downtown, did smell kind of a stench, followed his nose over toward the fish processors in between Thomas Basin and the Coast Guard base.”

Turns out, it was a burp of sorts from the ocean floor. Corporon explains that discharge from fish processing plants builds up over time.

“As the fish waste decomposes, it gives off sulfur dioxide,” he said. “At some point, the layer can rupture or burst or bubble, and you’ll get some odor coming up. It appears that’s exactly what happened.”

Corporon says it happens pretty much every year, although the first burp of the season usually surprises residents.

Corporon notes that discharge from fish processing plants is regulated through the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.