Saturday, June 22, 2013

Raceways, Weirs, and Fish Tubes

Yesterday offered a change of pace from the usual routine of checking the salmon trap (known as a weir) and netting individuals from one compartment to another.  At this point we had accumulated 25 enormous king salmon, and although the holding pen is larger, the fish will get stressed when crowded.  When this happens, it is time to transport all the salmon up the road to the raceways.  This is another holding area, located by the town’s reservoir and the headwaters of a stream that offer fresh flowing water.  Long tanks that the salmon are able to race around in will hold the fish until August, when it is time to harvest their eggs and make more salmon. 

So, you may be wondering, how do you transport beastly, full-grown salmon from a river trap to an upstream tank?  Fish tubes, of course! These homemade devices have been constructed out of large plastic building pipes and cushioned on the inside with foam.  Small holes dot the outside of the cylinder contraption as well as the end coverings in order to allow for water flow.  A technician nets one fish, and through some sort of sedating tail grip, is able to calm the fish enough to lift it out of the water and slip into the tube that I hold steady against the current. I bungee shut the open end, and float this tube downstream, with the salmon’s head facing forward into the flow to keep it from being drowned.  

loading the Chinook into a fish tube

floating down the river

Once we’ve floated down a ways where the river bends beside the road, we run the loaded tubes up the bank with a burst of exertion and plop them inside a large water-filled cooler on wheels.  This is trailed behind a 4-wheeler that runs two fish up to the raceway.  At the raceway the salmon have to be unloaded, so another energetic effort is made to quickly carry the fish-filled tube from the transporting tank to the raceway.  I had a chance to work up here for half the day, and learned how to empty a tube of its goods.  While keeping the cylinder submerged, you open the bungee end, grip the salmon’s tail, and slowwwly slide the fish out, making sure not to scrape its scales or stress it out.  Then you stand in the water with giant salmon and wait for the next run.  Unfortunately only 2 fish can be transported at a time, so you can see how 4 hours of our day disappeared.  Even so, it was a fun learning process and we were thoroughly exhausted afterwards, perfectly ripe for a nap. 

hanging out with some Chinook

salmon swimming around the raceway

Since the sun essentially never goes down here, we’ve accidentally had 10-hour days all week.  We’ve successfully set up our camper home, begun outreach projects, learned and worked the weir trap, and even had a shooting lesson in preparation for bears (although we have yet to see one). Last night was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and that’s precisely how I would describe it.  By the time we went to bed, past midnight, it was still light out!  In the company of these long hours are immense high tides, perfect for salmon to swim upriver but less than ideal for our stationary riverside trailer. Tonight and tomorrow we are expecting over 10-ft tides, and can only hope we don’t float away! 

Today is once again cold and rainy; it’s the Kodiak summer everyone kept telling us about yet us Florida girls refused to believe.  The weird thing is, I got slightly sunburned yesterday while sitting on fish tubes in the river waiting for the ATV to make his back and forth trips.  When mentioning this to a coworker I was reminded of the diminished ozone up here, which means sunlight peaking through passing clouds is just as hazardous as a beach day in Florida.  Time to break out the sunscreen—maybe then I’ll feel a little more at home!

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