Friday, December 23, 2011

2011 in Review: Elwha Dam Removal and the Fish Weir

As we reach the end of 2011, we find ourselves wondering how the year went by so quickly and thinking about some of the highlights. For our office, this year will definitely be remembered as the year that removal of two large dams on the Elwha River finally started. Since early September, much progress has been made in tearing down the dams. A time-lapse video of the dam demolition can be viewed at For more information on the events leading up to demolition and how our office has been involved, visit

Elwha Dam on December 23, 2011
Once the dams have been completely removed, it won't be long before anadromous fish will once again have access to the >70 miles of pristine aquatic habitat located upstream in Olympic National Park. We intend to document how quickly these salmon, steelhead, and bull trout populations rebound by counting them on their journey up the river in coming years. In late 2010, we added a post describing the weir structure being operated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (in partnership with USGS, NOAA-Fisheries, Olympic National Park, the Lower Elwha Tribe, and our office). To date, this is our most frequently visited story since starting the blog.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Lake Sammamish Kokanee Return in Large Numbers

Kokanee salmon adult
Like an early holiday gift, kokanee salmon have been observed by the hundreds spawning in tributaries to Lake Sammamish during the month of November. Our partners at King County and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have been out counting the colorful red fish in Ebright, Lewis and Laughing Jacobs Creeks in order to keep track of their numbers and track the recovery of this native fish population. Click on this story and video as covered by King 5 News: 

As of November 28, our partners have counted 1575 kokanee along with 301 redds dug by the female kokanee in these three creeks. These large numbers are cause for celebration! In comparison, only 50 or so fish were estimated to have returned to the same creeks all of last fall. Click on this King County link for a video showing kokanee spawning in Laughing Jacobs Creek:
Collecting kokanee adults for hatchery broodstock
Our office, along with King County, have collected just over 200 of this year's kokanee adults from these three creeks in order to spawn them and rear their offspring within the safe confines of the Issaquah State Fish Hatchery. So far ,we have collected more than 50,000 eggs. We plan to keep on collecting 15% of the adults that return to the creeks during the coming weeks. In the spring, the fry will be released back into the same creeks where the adults were collected. 
Lake Sammamish kokanee hatchery fry
From there they will immediately swim downstream to Lake Sammamish and hopefully return to the creek as adults 3 to 5 years later. The current draft of the Conservation Supplementation Plan for Lake Sammamish Kokanee is available here:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fish on the Move - Tule Fall Chinook in the White Salmon River

Biological Technician Kira Mazzi’s Experiences at Condit Dam

On October 26, 2011, after 100 years in operation, the Condit Dam was blown and decommissioning began. The decision to decommission the dam, owned by PacifiCorp, was due in part to the environmental concern for fish passage. The removal of the dam will open 33 miles of the White Salmon River and its tributaries for steelhead, 21 miles for coho, and 8 miles on the mainstem of the White Salmon River will be opened for tule fall Chinook. As part of PacifiCorp’s environmental obligation, money was set aside for the capture and relocation of tule fall Chinook prior to dam removal.

From August 1, 2011, to October 5, 2011, staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Tribal organizations, and other groups worked on the White Salmon River to capture and move as many salmon as possible to sites upstream of the Condit Dam before dam removal. The purpose of this was to ensure that the female salmon wouldn’t lay their eggs in the path of 2.7 million tons of sediment that would be released when the Condit Dam was breached.

Kira with one of the captured tule fall Chinook
Fish were captured in two ways. Boat seining was used at the mouth of the White Salmon River to trap and corral fish gathering below the first rapids. Once the fish were in the net, biologists removed the fish by hand and placed them into a fish tote located on the boat. Then the fish were transported to a floating barge where biological information was collected--length, sex, and genetics. An identification tag was inserted in each fish to identify them during carcass surveys later in the season. The fish were then loaded into a tanker truck which transported them 3-8 miles upriver to be released at one of three designated locations. The second method of capture was using a weir to direct the Tule into concrete holding ponds. The fish were then crowded and netted out by hand. Electro anesthesia was used to calm the fish while data was collected and an identification tag was inserted. These fish were then transported up river by tanker truck to be released. The combination of these two methods is what allowed for such a successful relocation effort.

In total, 679 fish were caught--380 males and 299 females. This was 179 fish above the goal set by the Chinook relocation project and USFWS. If each captured female lays 4,000 eggs, this project could potentially save more than 1,100,000 baby salmon in this run alone!

For the first time since 1911, the White Salmon River now runs unobstructed, and the fish will now once again live, spawn, and die in their native habitat.

Please check out these videos on YouTube for more information:

Condit Dam and the White Salmon
Condit Dam breach

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Propagation and Inspiration - Spawning Time at Quilcene NFH

The return of adult salmon to Washington streams is an exciting time of year for all to see and experience. The successful return of these fish is a time of celebration and a busy time of year at Quilcene National Fish Hatchery. Of the approximately 400,000 coho juveniles released by the hatchery each spring, an average of 5% to 7% return to the hatchery as adults. In a typical year, hatchery staff and volunteers spawn the returning coho salmon, resulting in over 1,800,000 fertilized eggs. At the same time, our staff and staff from the Olympia Fish Health Center sample returning fish for coded-wire tags, size, and disease presence. This year, the crew successfully sorted, sampled, and spawned 750 females, 599 males, and 151 jacks (small males). This success is a testament to their teamwork and dedication toward forwarding the USFWS mission of "working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people." 

Staff also provided a unique and exciting educational experience for local youth, parents, and teachers. Students from Quilcene, Vinland, and Wolfley Elementary Schools and a local Girl Scout troop visited the hatchery during spawning days and were treated to some new and fascinating experiences. The children were split up into small groups that rotated through five learning activities--hatchery tour, live salmon spawning demonstration, fish health sampling, tag scanning/retrieval, and fish dissection. From watching hatchery workers fertilizing and cleaning buckets of eggs, to exploring and handling internal organs such as the heart and liver, these students had a "grossome" time! In the end, U.S Fish & Wildlife Service employees and volunteers provided a valuable experience for over 200 youth and 45 adults.

Footnote: Quilcene National Fish Hatchery recently celebrated its 100th year of operation! For more information about the hatchery, please visit


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Documenting Fish and Habitat Trends with King County

Issaquah Creek
Over the past three summers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has worked on a field project with King County to survey habitat and fish populations in streams that feed into Lake Washington, a large lake in Seattle, WA. The main objective of this work is to assess and monitor habitats essential to Chinook salmon, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The work is also part of a larger effort to monitor Chinook salmon habitat throughout the state of Washington by the Washington Department of Ecology. In addition to King County and USFWS, 27 other local government organizations have assisted in this project.

Collecting fish samples
This year's work team consisted of three King County employees and five USFWS employees. Four of the USFWS employees were students from The Evergreen State College, Eastern Washington University, and Oregon State University. We spent 4 days each week in July and August at various streams and creeks either collecting fish with electrofishing equipment or helping with habitat measurements. The primary fish species encountered during our surveys included cutthroat trout, juvenile coho salmon, and five species of sculpin. Fifty sites were completed in 2011 and each site will be resurveyed in 2012 and 2013. By repeating these surveys in future years, we will be able to determine whether fish communities and their habitats change over time as habitat restoration work is implemented to benefit Chinook salmon in the Puget Sound region.

Cutthroat trout collected during survey

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - It's a Wrap!

As we finish up the last few days of work here at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I can hardly believe all the amazing experiences this job has given me in just 2-1/2 months. Before starting this job, I had almost no experience working with kids and no strong desire to do so and was a bit nervous about the Youth Fisheries Academy camps. However, when the time came, I was surprised at how easily I related to the kids and was able to teach them something that I had just learned only 2 weeks earlier. Time and time again I was impressed and inspired by their enthusiasm, open minds, positive attitudes, and cleverness. I got fantastic reviews from the campers (as we all did) and made close connections with several of them. The great teachers in my life were so important to me and I could tell that I really left an impression on many young minds, just as they did on mine. I will definitely consider and even seek out education and outreach positions in the future after seeing just how big a difference these types of programs make and after experiencing the rewards that come from working with young people.

I didn’t have any experience in fisheries work before this job either, so all of the field opportunities were new and fantastic. Activities such as electrofishing, freshwater mussel surveys, and stream sampling revealed that there is so much more life in our streams than we can possibly imagine by just peering at them. Being involved in field research like this, along with assisting with screw traps, the Elwha fishing weir, and extraction of coded-wire tags, was very exciting. It was great to be a part of the teams that collect the data that is used in so many different ways to practice conservation. Not only is this work incredibly important, it’s incredibly fun! Getting out into nature and exploring its workings firsthand is very enlightening and certainly something I want to do a lot of in the future.

I have two more years of college left and I plan on earning both a BS and BA degree when I graduate with a focus on environmental science and ecology. I want to get as much diverse experience in my field during and after that time and also plan on going to graduate school and earning a Ph.D. My experience with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been nothing short of extraordinary and has provided me with many unique opportunities that are hard to find while in college. I got a great education in stream ecology and ichthyology, loads of professional experience, and an "in" with an agency that I would definitely consider working for as a career. I hope that programs like this one and the Youth Fisheries Academy continue and grow because they are invaluable to those involved with them.

-- Claire Wood, STEP Fisheries Technician

Friday, October 14, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - Reflections on a Summer Well Spent

With only a couple days left in my summer position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), I am feeling distinctly bittersweet. It has been an outstanding, exciting, informative and valuable summer. I am sad to say goodbye to all of the wonderful people I have worked with and the fun projects I have worked on. At the same time, I am excited to return to Fairhaven College for my second year to continue my focus on science and education and explore the many opportunities to come. When I started this position, I had hoped to learn more about both field biology and education and perhaps come closer to making a decision about the direction of my education. While I am still officially undecided, I do know that I would like to continue with field and education outreach work. They were challenging, fun and rewarding aspects of my summer position and I enjoyed them both for different reasons.

One of the most beneficial activities Tree, Claire and I took part in this summer was a resume workshop lead by our supervisor. We have been working on updating and re-writing our resumes, including new work experience we’ve gained over the summer and learning more about the appropriate format and structure for this line of work. It’s amazing to see the difference in my resume after this summer; I’ve had the opportunity to do some fantastic things and I’m so glad I got the chance to brainstorm and write about them while they were still fresh in my mind. The finished product is a nicely polished, scientifically focused and diversified resume that I will definitely be using in the future.

Next quarter at Fairhaven I’m taking some really exciting science classes, including an Ornithology and Eco-Restoration class. I’ve never studied ornithology before and I’m looking forward to learning more about bird species of the Northwest. One of the really great things about Fairhaven is that I have the option to design my own concentration or major, so I could potentially create a major combining education and science. Whatever path I choose to meander down in the future, I know that the experience this STEP position has given me will be extremely valuable and useful in continuing to explore my educational interests and career opportunities!

I hope you have enjoyed hearing from Claire, Tree and me this summer and have learned a little about the STEP program and the USFWS. Thanks so much for reading!

--Mara Healy, STEP Fisheries Technician


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - Life after the Youth Fisheries Academy - Freshwater Mussel Surveys

After the last of the Youth Fisheries Academy day camps, Claire, Tree and I transitioned to working on various field projects. It has been great fun to get outside and help with a large variety of projects--electrofishing, installation of the Elwha River fish weir, and river surveys for freshwater mussels just to name a few. We have been mostly helping with a freshwater mussel survey project led by Teal Waterstrat, another STEP student, so I will tell you a little bit more about why we’re looking for these invertebrates and our experiences in the field! 

Looking for freshwater mussels
Freshwater mussels are very elusive creatures that live in the bottom of healthy river and lake systems. They are not very mobile, so their life cycle includes a larval stage that requires a host fish as a means of dispersal. The Western Pearlshell mussel, for example, has larvae that cling to trout and salmon for transport. Another interesting fact about the Western Pearlshell mussel is that its lifespan can exceed 100 years in healthy rivers! Wherever they occur, freshwater mussels play very important roles--they help cycle nutrients, maintain water clarity, and are a food source for several animals (river otters, muskrats, skunks, raccoons, etc). There are close to 300 species of freshwater mussels in all of North America and most (about three quarters) are in major decline due to pollution and habitat disturbances.

Snorkel survey in the Chehalis River
We waded and snorkeled streams in the Chehalis River watershed with the hopes of getting a general idea of if--and where--mussels are living and what types of mussels are present. Discovering the numbers and locations of freshwater mussels is an important goal for a couple of reasons. Firstly, freshwater mussels are an indicator species. This means that their presence or absence can tell us a lot about the long-term health of a river because they are unable to survive or flourish in systems that are heavily disrupted or polluted. Secondly, we’re conducting these surveys because the mussel population is not well documented in the Chehalis River basin. Teal has done a lot of research and discovered where freshwater mussels have been found in the past and then coordinated surveys of those areas.

Still looking . . .
This has been exciting work since I had never seen a freshwater mussel before taking part in these surveys. After completing the training and practice, this now makes perfect sense--freshwater mussels look just like rocks! So taking that into consideration, we developed a few strategies for increasing our chances of seeing freshwater mussels during the surveys including using polarized sunglasses, sub-surface viewing tools called aquascopes, and training in areas with healthy mussel populations in order to develop a clear search image. Claire, Tree, and I have been mostly wading in rivers and using aquascopes to look for mussels. While not terribly fruitful, it has been quite enjoyable!

As this project continues and expands, we will be able to form an idea of the health of the rivers we are surveying based on what we find (or don’t find). These findings will, in turn, give us very important information about what sort of management, conservation, and restoration practices would be most beneficial for the Chehalis River basin.

--Mara Healy, STEP Fisheries Technician


Friday, September 30, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - Youth Fisheries Academy - Day Camp Season Comes to a Close

Hello, it’s Tree again! As July came to a close, so did the Youth Fisheries Academy day camp season. The last camp was particularly memorable as we ended this year’s programming with a huge success.

The final camp took place at a beautiful location at a restoration site along Deer Creek near Shelton. We worked with a group of student employees from the Mason County 4-H Forestry Leadership Summer program, which enrolls up to 24 high school students, giving them a chance to learn about managing natural resources sustainably through hands-on experiences helping natural resource professionals with service-learning projects. It was a perfect fit as the program is also designed for students who want to explore and experience activities in forestry and wildlife-related careers.

Measuring cobble size
Trying to explain the importance of, as well as different ways to measure canopy cover, vegetation, river discharge, streambed cobble size, and macroinvertebrates, is a lot to cover in 1 hour, but this group of high school students actually made the lesson easy. During my time in college, I’ve done field labs that use a gravelometer to measure cobble size and determine streambed make up, which is one of the exercises we do at the stream sampling station. The youngest participants of the season were under 10 years old, so needless to say they have a great head start! Many of these activities were simplified for the younger campers, but that wasn’t necessary for this group of high school students as they were eager to learn the tools of the ecologists’ trade. I was very impressed with how enthusiastic they were and how quickly they leaned and utilized the methods taught.

I was happy to end on such a good note with an amazing group of students who seemed to truly enjoy and benefit from the camp. At the end of the day, I think that all of the students learned a great deal about the importance and function of fish and wildlife, as well as how we can gain information about them.

--Tree Steele, STEP Fisheries Technician


Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - Youth Fisheries Academy at the Beach with Squaxin Island Tribe

This summer has been full of so many wonderful camps with countless memorable moments; each event was unique due to the combination of campers and locations. Our first camp took place at Priest Point Park in Olympia and demonstrated the success that we would continue to see in future camps. We had 17 campers between the ages of 10 and 15 who registered for this free event through Olympia Arts, Parks & Recreation (one of our many partners). Most campers did not know each other, so the team-building activities at the beginning of the day were especially important for developing interpersonal skills. Campers were then split by age into four groups and spent about 50 minutes at each of our learning stations. We had a great group of kids with many different interests. Everyone seemed enthusiastic to be there and participated fully in the camp. I was a bit nervous going into this first camp of the season, but once we began interacting with the campers it became much more natural and was a lot of fun.

Collecting fish from seine net
This camp featured a unique opportunity because of the easy beach access. Scott Steltzner, fisheries biologist for the Squaxin Island Tribe, led a beach seining activity that was very popular with the campers. The seine was 10 feet deep and 120 feet long with weights on the bottom and buoys on top to keep it upright in the water. One end of the net was secured on shore while the other end was pulled around by a boat, encircling fish in the net. Then the campers and staff demonstrated a great team effort by pulling both ends of the net up on shore. The fish were then removed from the net and placed into buckets of water for observation. We caught loads of fish and several species, including juvenile Chinook salmon, staghorn sculpin, starry flounder, and surf smelt. It was great to see some campers apply what they had learned in the species identification module to these live samples. Students had the opportunity to weigh, measure and record data on the fish we caught. They loved being able to hold and examine the fish and it was great for them see how much life there is in just a very small area of Puget Sound.

Observing fish catch
In an effort to measure our impact and improve future camps, we had each camper fill out an assessment form to rate our performance (enjoyment level and knowledge gained). We received fantastic reviews and it was awesome to hear the kids telling their parents all of their new fisheries knowledge as they were picked up from the camp. And I hope they were aware of how much WE enjoyed teaching them and how much they taught us in return. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to our summer camps and eagerly anticipated the camps to come.

- Claire Wood, STEP Fisheries Technician


Friday, September 2, 2011

Makah NFH Hosts Youth Fisheries Academy

One of the most interesting Youth Fisheries Academy camps we had this year took place at Makah National Fish Hatchery in Neah Bay, WA. Neah Bay is located on the Olympic Peninsula on the westernmost tip of the continental U.S.--quite a drive from Olympia! We had two day camps at the hatchery--the first camp was a group of kids who were enrolled in a summer school program and their ages ranged from 4 to 12 years old; the second camp was a small group of middle and high school students.

Playing the "Salmon Homing Game"
The activities we prepared for the first group were different from our usual Youth Fisheries Academy curriculum due to developmental differences in the age groups. We had a fish dissection station, telemetry and salmon life cycle bracelet station, a macroinvertebrate identification and fish printing station, fish identification and health station, and a hatchery tour. This was a really great group of kids and it was a fun challenge to adapt our curriculum and activities to suit a larger age range. Some of the most exciting parts of the day were the team-building activities we facilitated. We played the "Salmon Homing Game", where the campers were blindfolded and used a string (which represented a river) to navigate upstream, finding their way back home using their sense of smell. This was a really fun way to teach kids about the salmon life cycle and the amazing journey salmon make back to their home stream. Those themes tied in well with the other two unique aspects of this camp, the salmon life cycle bracelet and fish printing activities. The salmon life cycle bracelet activity involved making a bracelet in a specific pattern that represented the life cycle of a salmon. Each bead’s color represented a different stage of life, such as the egg stage, the migration downstream, avoiding ocean predators, the return migration and spawning. The finished product was a bracelet or necklace that told the whole story of a salmon’s life from birth to death.

Fish dissection station
The next day we had another camp, but the age group was very different. We were working with a small group of middle and high school students. That day, we had more typical stations--fisheries technology, fish anatomy dissections, fish heath and identification, water quality testing and macroinvertebrate identification, and a tour of the hatchery. Once again, it was a great challenge to switch gears from working with youngsters to teens. The water-quality testing station was new for us and Tree did an excellent job teaching the campers about the importance and process of water-quality testing. We tested water from a nearby pond for dissolved oxygen levels, turbidity, nitrites, and pH. It was a great opportunity to discuss pollution, run off, and water quality in general!

As the Youth Fisheries Academy continues to grow and develop, we plan to connect with even more diverse communities and groups of kids. Neah Bay is a part of the Makah Indian Reservation and a significant portion of the population is Native American. Salmon are a vital component of the culture, community, natural history, and industry of Neah Bay and it was fantastic to show the campers that there is a lot of positive energy and excitement from all over the state surrounding salmon. One of my favorite moments from the second camp was during one of the dissection sessions with two high school campers. We were talking about the process of dissection and how it is similar to, yet different from, gutting fish-- which they were very familiar with--when one of the campers exclaimed how interesting and valuable it was to know what each organ was and that next time he was gutting a fish, he would pay much more attention to what he was removing. To me, this represents a poignant and graceful cultural connection between the youth of Neah Bay and the hatchery, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the scientific community. After receiving very positive reviews and an invitation to return to Neah Bay next summer, I hope that we can continue to reach out to the youth of Neah Bay and show them the many connections and opportunities surrounding salmon and science!


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Looking for Freshwater Mussels in the Chehalis River Watershed

We are initiating an exciting new project to learn the distribution of freshwater mussels in the Chehalis River watershed. Western Washington is home to three types of freshwater mussels--the Western Pearlshell, Western Ridged, and a diverse group of mussels called Floaters. Pearlshells and Western Ridged mussels typically inhabit streams and rivers while Floaters typically live in slow-moving water or lakes and ponds.

Western Pearlshell mussels
Freshwater mussels are useful as indicators of water quality and healthy fish communities. Mussels cannot move like fish so they flourish or perish with changes in environmental conditions. They keep records of change in their shell’s growth and accumulate compounds in their tissue. Some mussels are thought to live in the same place for over a hundred years! That is a lot of time and change in one spot. Mussels need a healthy fish community in order to reproduce. As young, they hitch a ride on the gills of fish and ride around the stream until they drop off and settle into the substrate where they will likely stay the rest of their lives. Don’t worry if you don’t see mussels, though--they are hard to spot and don’t live in every stream.

Snorkel survey in the Satsop River
Right now we are snorkeling and wading several Chehalis tributaries in Grays Harbor and Mason Counties and are finding Pearlshells as individuals and in large beds. We have also found a number of Floater shells, but no live mussels. This is not surprising, though, given the quick-moving streams we are targeting now. For the rest of the summer, we will be snorkeling and wading more streams, as well as working with biologists from Washington State agencies, forest resource agencies, and private firms to track down promising mussel locations. Knowing the type and location of the mussels will help us track their populations through time, providing us with important information about the health of the Chehalis River watershed and a better understanding of the role of mussels in the rich and diverse waters of the Pacific Northwest.

If you are interested in learning more about freshwater mussels, please visit the Xerces Society’s webpage where they have a free online field guide to Mussels of the Pacific Northwest.

A word of warning--Although you might be tempted to collect some mussels for yourself, it is illegal to eat or collect live mussels in Washington State. Besides, I've been told they are not the most appetizing creatures in the water anyway.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - Teaching Youth About Stream Sampling

Hey it’s me, Tree! It’s almost been a month since I started my education and outreach work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and it’s been going great. For our Youth Fisheries Academy camps, we’ve broken the time up into four different learning stations. I’ve been leading the stream sampling station, which has been engaging and enjoyable. When fisheries and wildlife biologists go into the field to collect data, they investigate a lot of factors in order to determine the health of the stream as well as the populations living in that environment. Measuring the habitat components (water, soil and air) as well as the organisms (plants, animals, fungi and bacteria) are examples of data that can be collected.

Identifying collected invertebrates
My station begins with stream habitat mapping, and I have seen some really amazing renditions created by our students. During this activity, we also discuss important terms such as biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) as well as the difference between quantitative and qualitative data. Campers then gain experience collecting a variety of data. To collect quantifiable biotic data, participants use a densiometer to measure the tree canopy cover. Examples of quantifiable abiotic data collected by campers include stream substrate (size of the rocks on the streambed) and stream discharge (water flow in cubic feet per second). My favorite part of the station is definitely the macroinvertebrate sampling. This sampling essentially involves digging around in the streambed (substrate) for bugs and other invertebrates--something I’ve enjoyed for as long as I can remember. We then identify these invertebrates and establish their diversity in order to determine the health of the stream (certain species are sensitive to pollution). The scientific techniques and technologies used at this station make these activities fun and meaningful. All data collection methods involve wading in the stream, which the campers really enjoy.

Teaching about stream sampling and the importance of these ecosystems has been fun and fulfilling in many ways. It’s a great opportunity to recall and practice some of the sampling techniques I have been taught, but I have been learning a great deal from the campers as well. It’s astounding how perceptive and creative they are. On more than one occasion I’ve heard these young biologists say "Wow, that was fun!" when walking away from my station. I’m glad I’ve gotten the opportunity to teach, learn, and have fun as well. The camps, campers, and streams have all been unique and memorable.

- Tree Steele, STEP Fisheries Technician

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - Teaching Youth About Fisheries Technology

Hello again readers! The last few weeks have been filled with Youth Fisheries Academy (YFA) camps taking place around the Olympia area, down to Centralia, and all the way out to Neah Bay. We worked with youth as young as 4 and as old as 15 and each camp presented unique challenges and opportunities for our education team. We learned a great deal as we adapted to each situation and were met with enthusiasm and raving reviews from the kids every time! Their zest for learning has been positively inspiring! The main components of the YFA camps are stream sampling and water quality; fish health and identification; fish anatomy and physiology (dissections); and my station – fisheries technology and tracking. We also incorporated teambuilding activities and art components, such as fish printing and salmon life cycle bracelets, for the younger campers.

Looking for hidden radio collars
As I said, I led the station focused on the use of technology in research conducted by FWS and similar entities. I first introduced the campers to PIT tags (similar to pet ID microchips) and demonstrated how they work (hands-on activity) and are implanted in fish, followed by group discussions of how this technology is used for fisheries conservation projects. The next activity focused on radio telemetry, which is also used to track the movement of animals but with much greater range and detail. As they searched for hidden radio collars, campers were able to use the telemetry equipment to practice the same skills that professional biologists apply in their field work. Campers also gained experience using GPS technology, an essential tool for field studies. With the help of our fantastic outreach volunteers Barry and Loretta Brown, participants used GPS units to find hidden "caches" (peanut butter jars in this case) in a high-tech treasure hunt known as "geocaching".

The campers were very clever with the technology and proved to be great young trackers. I was also impressed by how much information they retained from my lesson and how they were able to provide thorough answers to most of my questions. One telling moment was at a camp with 4th through 6th grade summer school students in Centralia. At one point, the rest of the school had recess during one of my technology modules. One camper commented that they were missing recess, but the kids quickly agreed that "this is better than recess!" That kind of excitement for learning is truly inspirational and we hope to continue fostering enthusiasm like this in the Youth Fisheries Academy camps to come.

- Claire Wood, STEP Fisheries Technician

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - Teaching Youth About Fish Anatomy and Physiology

As we approach the last Youth Fisheries Academy camps for 2011, it’s great to reflect on previous events to see just how much we have all learned and grown. In the past 3 weeks, I have been leading the fish anatomy and physiology (dissection) station. Although a tad messy at times, I have found this learning module to be a fun, effective, and rewarding way to interact with the campers. To give you an idea of exactly what happens at the Youth Fisheries Academies and a feel for the experience of leading fish dissections, I’m going to provide details about what this station entails!

Learning about fish anatomy
During a typical fish anatomy and dissection session, I start by introducing the campers to what the station covers, safety precautions, expectations of being respectful (to each other and the fish) and alternative activities for those who don’t feel comfortable dissecting fish. These alternate activities include a beautifully made two-layer fish dissection puzzle which has all of the internal and external features labeled. Those who do choose to participate (which is almost always everyone) begin by exploring the names and functions of the external and internal anatomy, as well as learning the techniques and processes of dissection. One of my objectives is to make the process as hands-on and mentally engaging as possible, so I ask a lot of questions and encourage the campers to make guesses before I explain the importance of each organ or external feature. After we cover everything from the slime layer to the heart, the campers are split into groups and given fish to dissect on their own--often the most exciting part of the station! While the campers are busy dissecting the fish, I move from group to group providing guidance, pointing out organs, and asking questions of the campers about the organs they’re dissecting.

There is naturally a lot of energy around dissection and it ends up being expressed in many different ways, including intense focus, exclaiming about the "grossness", and rambunctiousness. I try to guide and focus this energy into excitement about the fish and help the campers see dissection as fun, exciting, and interesting! My favorite recurring exclamation from the campers is "That was gross, but SO COOL!". One of the most interesting and challenging aspects of this station was learning how to adjust my style and curriculum to each group I worked with. This was particularly challenging when working with campers who were uncomfortable with the dissection or especially young. It was a huge learning experience for me and I now feel much more confident in my ability to engage diverse groups of campers with different interests, energy levels and developmental ranges. Every group of campers has posed a unique challenge and I have had so much fun developing strategies, encouraging kids to get engaged, and seeing the excitement and interest that the dissections can inspire.

- Mara Healy, STEP Fisheries Technician

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Taking a Leap Into Class II and III Rapids in the Name of Safety

Last month, biologists and technicians from our office joined employees from the National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Forest Service, and other organizations in a 3-day Swift Water Safety and Rescue training course. We take the course each year to prepare for our summer fish and habitat surveys in the fast-moving rivers of western Washington. For newer staff, this was a first-time training experience not soon forgotten. The training began with a half-day lecture at the NPS headquarters in Port Angeles, WA, followed by 2½ days of in-water exercises on the Elwha, Sol Duc, and Skokomish Rivers on the Olympic Peninsula.

Students learned skills necessary to identify risks and safely negotiate swift water hazards using proper wading and swimming techniques, as well as the use of zip lines. We also developed rescue skills including effective throw bag use; avoiding, negotiating and rescuing from foot entrapments and strainers; "live bait” rescues (where a rescuer, tethered to a team member anchored ashore, swims to the aid of the victim); vessel capsize, recovery and reentry; and basic gear that field personnel should have on hand.

Every year, field workers and recreationalists fall victim to a lack of experience, familiarity with, and training in the dangers of swift water environments. This course was an intensive confidence-building and teambuilding experience for our Fisheries Division staff. Each member left the course with a new respect for the hazards of swift water, a greater appreciation for their equipment, a heightened awareness of the physical demands required to work in and around moving water, and the knowledge to work safely in these environments.


Friday, July 22, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - Introducing Tree

Hello! My name is Tree Steele and I am a Student Temporary Employee Program (STEP) fisheries technician with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) and a senior at the The Evergreen State College focusing on organic chemistry and ecology.

My education at Evergreen has included several intensive courses which have developed and amplified my passion for and knowledge of wildlife and education. I was in a year-long program called Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems my first year there. This class integrated aquatic biology, ecology, field methods, and data analysis with human interactions with water, and social issues involving human usage of freshwater. The following summer I interned with the FWS analyzing acoustic tracking data, electrofishing, and cataloging stomach samples from fish caught in Lake Washington. During this time, I discovered I loved field work and I wanted to get out as much as possible. At the end of the summer, I continued my internship but switched from fisheries to education/outreach. During this time, I created a book of nature-based activities for the FWS staff to use when working with children.

I have always been fascinated with animals and the outdoors. I fondly remember family camping trips in Eastern Oregon where I was on a constant search for wildlife. I began volunteering for various environmental and social organizations in middle school, including three summers spent at the Oregon Zoo. I later moved on to a number of volunteer and paid counselor positions for outdoor nature camps, including Friends of Tryon Creek Education Center and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. I found the lessons and educational games to be truly fun and deeply rewarding. Once I realized that I could get paid for doing this type of work, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in field and education/outreach work.

This summer I will have the opportunity to focus on both of those career goals, as I have landed a seasonal STEP position with the FWS Washington Fish & Wildlife Office in Lacey, WA. I will be an instructor for the Youth Fisheries Academy day camps, giving youth an opportunity to become fisheries biologists for the day. This outreach work is important for it gives kids a chance to explore the natural world, as well as inform them of careers that involve nature and conservation. The kids are not the only ones to benefit from this program, though; it also provides a great opportunity for me to gain experience in developing and implementing the camp curriculum. In addition, the other STEP technicians and I will be assisting with various field research projects being conducted by the Fisheries Division. The three of us will update this blog throughout the summer as we continue with the Youth Fisheries day camps and field work. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - Introducing Claire

Hello everyone! My name is Claire Wood and I am an environmental science and conservation biology major at The Evergreen State College and a Student Temporary Employee Program (STEP) fisheries technician with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS).

For as long as I can remember, the natural world has been incredibly important to me and I have been deeply interested in the scientific underpinnings of the universe. As I grew older, this passion matured as I became involved in field work, restoration efforts, wildlife rehabilitation, ecological surveys, and the like. I was fortunate enough to live in a school district (in Nebraska) where smaller “focus programs” were offered as an alternative to the large standard high schools. I attended the science focus program for all 4 years and was able to delve deeply into science and participated in a great deal of experiential learning. I then enrolled at Evergreen for its fantastic environmental science program, interdisciplinary approach, and student-directed curriculum. It has proven to be a great fit and has allowed me the flexibility to study abroad. Last spring quarter, for example, I studied in Costa Rica and Guatemala as part of an environmental field program. We studied the ecology of the area as well as the implications and impacts of “ecotourism” and cash crop agriculture on these unique and incredibly biologically diverse countries. This program was very eye-opening to the multitude of challenges these people and countries face, as well as the many facets of conservation of these critical ecosystems. This experience reinforced my passion for social and ecological stewardship while demonstrating how much of a positive impact each person can make. This type of responsibility is not to be taken for granted.

Through my studies and direct experiences, I have found education to be a common and effective tool for making positive changes. The chance to gain experience in conservation-based educational work is a big reason why this STEP position with the FWS was so appealing. I will be working as an instructor for the Youth Fisheries Academy day camp program, which aims to connect youth with nature, educate them on various fisheries science topics and methods, and put conservation in the forefront of their mind. It will also embolden participants' work by demonstrating that science is comprehensible, diverse, important, and even fun! In addition to the educational work, this position will also allow me to gain field experience when I work on several fisheries conservation field projects this summer. These projects will likely have a lasting effect and pave the way for more progress in the future. The other two STEP technicians and I are looking forward to keeping you filled in on the many aspects of our work as the season progresses. We hope you all have a fantastic summer and thanks for reading!


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - Introducing Mara

Hello! My name is Mara Healy. I’m a student at Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies within Western Washington University and am super excited to be home in Olympia working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for the summer.

I am working on an outreach program called the Youth Fisheries Academy during July and spending some time working on field projects in August. Claire Wood, Tree Steele, and I are all Student Temporary Employee Program (STEP) fisheries technicians and we will be writing about our experiences leading fish dissections, experimenting with radio telemetry, macroinvertebrate sampling and much more. Hopefully, the blog entries from the three of us will give you an idea about the amazing work FWS is doing and what it’s like to be a part of the team.

This first week of work has been filled with training galore! We’ve also been learning the curriculum for the Youth Fisheries Academy camps and what activities we will be responsible for leading. I will be focusing on fish anatomy dissection, so I’ve been busy practicing and observing dissections and learning about the functions of internal organs, external features, and the natural history of salmon.

As you’ll be hearing from us every couple weeks or so, I’ll tell you a little bit more of my story. I’m interested in biology, aquatic ecosystems, education, and being outside. I am super excited that I have the opportunity to gain experience in education outreach, as well as field biology, while earning money to help fund my college education. Over the past year at Fairhaven College, I have been fortunate enough to work with some wonderful biologists and ecologists who have encouraged and supported me in designing and implementing field-based pilot studies as a part of my education. These projects have been hugely influential for me in transforming some of the aesthetically-based interest I have in the natural world into scientifically-based curiosity. For the most part, my studies have focused on marine ecosystems; I am excited to stretch and grow my knowledge and understanding of fisheries biology. Aside from my academic life, I enjoy rock climbing, knitting, hiking, and being on the water.

I am looking forward to a summer filled with inspiring outreach events, diverse field work opportunities, and weekends filled with sun-warmed rock, neon green foliage, fresh berries, and lots of beach walks and tide pool exploration!


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011

A Look at U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Seasonal STEP Employee Experiences through A Fish-Eye Lens

This blog post is inspired and made possible by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) Youth & Careers in Nature Initiative. Under this initiative, federal funding supports FWS personnel and programming that connect youth with nature, youth employment for conservation work, and educating youth about career opportunities with the FWS. The FWS Fisheries program in Lacey, WA, has used initiative funding to design and implement a Youth Fisheries Academy day camp program. We piloted this summer program in 2010 (see report) and expanded it this year. This program provides youth with an exceptional introductory fisheries science education. 

2011 STEP employees
Initiative funding has also enabled our office to hire three college students as instructors for the Youth Fisheries Academy. In addition, they will also be working on several of our aquatic conservation projects and fisheries studies. These Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) employees have a fantastic opportunity to gain valuable career skills while earning summer income between college semesters.  Over the next 8 weeks, they will be sharing their experiences with you through regular postings on our blog. Please come back soon as they share their experiences with you.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Elwha River Bull Trout Rescue

This month, in preparation for removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), U.S. Geological Survey, NOAA Fisheries, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Lower Elwha Tribe participated in a multi-agency effort led by Olympic National Park to capture and relocate Elwha River bull trout from two reservoirs.

Lake Mills (formed by Glines Canyon Dam)
Removal of these large dams on the Elwha River will begin in September 2011 and is the largest dam removal project ever attempted in the United States. Although this historic dam removal will provide fish, including salmon and bull trout, access to 70 miles of pristine habitat upstream of the dams, the removal will also result in short-term water quality levels that are expected to be lethal to fish in the two reservoirs and the section of river downstream of the dams. The cause of the anticipated poor water quality is high turbidity resulting from the release of 17 million cubic yards of silt and gravel currently trapped behind the two dams and sitting at the bottom of the reservoirs where it has collected since the dams were constructed nearly 100 years ago. As a result, the FWS required Olympic National Park to develop and implement a bull trout rescue plan to move bull trout from this area during dam removal.

Helicopter lifting tote containing
40 bull trout destined for the
upper Elwha River
The rescue plan developed by Olympic National Park (and approved by FWS) called for the capture and relocation of up to 100 bull trout from the two reservoirs to locations upstream---Elkhorn and Hayes Rivers. The rescue operation collected 82 bull trout during a 10-day period using hook-and-line sampling and electrofishing techniques. We held the fish in live cages in the upper reservoir until they were flown by helicopter to the two upstream release sites on June 17. We collected a genetics sample and recorded length and weight for each fish in order to monitor how these fish respond to dam removal. We also tagged each fish to determine if the fish remain upstream where they were released or if they migrate back downstream. All 82 fish flown to the upper watershed release sites were alive and doing well at release. Detection of these fish later on will guide fish rescue recommendations for future dam removal projects in other western rivers.

For more information on this project, read the news release from Olympic National Park.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Anadromous Juvenile Bull Trout in the Skagit River, 1990-2009

Juvenile bull trout              (Photo: WDFW)
Bull trout are a member of the salmonid family, which includes salmon, trout, whitefish, char, and grayling. Salmonids are particularly known for their migratory nature. Anadromous salmon are an extreme case, spending most of their lives in the ocean but returning to headwater streams to spawn. Resident trout are at the opposite end of the spectrum, spending generation after generation in one stream. Between these extremes are migratory fish that never reach salt water, including adfluvial fish which spawn in streams but live in lakes, and fluvial fish which spawn in headwater streams but live downstream in larger rivers. Bull trout in Washington exhibit all ranges of this spectrum. Many are resident to a single stream, while migratory bull trout spawn in tributary streams where juvenile fish rear for 1 to 4 years before migrating to either a lake (adfluvial form), river (fluvial form), or salt water (anadromous) to rear as subadults or to live as adults. Bull trout are further unique in that individuals within a population can be anadromous while others stay in a river their entire life. Within one population, some fish may reside in tributaries, others migrate into lakes, and still others are anadromous.

Bull trout love cold, clean, complex, and connected streams and other aquatic habitat. Habitat degradation and fragmentation, blockage of migratory corridors, poor water quality, the effects of climate change and past fisheries management practices, including the introduction of non-native species such as brown, lake and brook trout, have resulted in local extinctions and population declines of bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus). This has led to the listing of bull trout as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1999. Within the Puget Sound Bull Trout Management Unit, there are eight core areas with a total of 57 local populations identified. Bull trout are found in the Chilliwack, Nooksack, lower and upper Skagit, Snohomish-Skykomish, Stillaguamish, upper Cedar (Chester Morse Lake system), and Puyallup River basins. With the exception of the Chilliwack and upper Cedar River systems, these basins all support anadromous bull trout that use Puget Sound marine waters for foraging and migration.

A high priority goal for the Puget Sound Management Unit is to acquire more complete information on the current distribution and abundance of bull trout within each core area. Additional information is needed on bull trout use of and distribution in estuarine and marine waters of Puget Sound. The anadromous form is unique to this recovery region and perhaps the least understood of all the life history strategies.

The goal of a joint effort between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is to characterize anadromous juvenile bull trout migration and associated environmental variables in the Skagit River. The Skagit River watershed contains 26 of the 57 local bull trout populations and all four life history strategies. A juvenile fish trap operated by WDFW near Mount Vernon (see map below), has collected biological information on juvenile salmonid migrants since 1990. However, the data on bull trout has never been summarized, so we provided funds to WDFW to analyze the 19 years of data they had collected. WDFW recently produced a report of their findings, which includes:

  • On average, 186 juvenile bull trout were caught per season (see graph below).
  • The fish ranged in length from 90-290 mm, averaging 125-144 mm.
  • These fish move downstream primarily at night
  • Migration occurs between April and mid-July, with peak catches in late May.
  • The trap catch can be used as an index of abundance; however, the trap catch cannot be expanded to a total abundance estimate because it under-represents the larger fish.
  • Relationships may exist between anadromous juvenile bull trout and spawner abundance, rearing temperatures, and food availability. Low spawner abundance of pink and chum salmon combined with high stream temperatures may limit early growth of anadromous bull trout.

Bull trout are a diverse species with specific habitat requirements. Successful conservation and management of this species will require an accurate understanding of which habitats are important for bull trout growth and survival, as well as migratory corridors that connect critical habitats. Further understanding the anadromous life history strategy will help us conserve this unique component of the Puget Sound Bull Trout Management Unit.

Download the full report at:
Learn more about bull trout biology, critical habitat, and conservation measures at

Skagit River downstream trap and areas of known
bull trout spawning (WDFW)

Catch of juvenile bull trout in trap (WDFW)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Logjams for Salmon and Bull Trout in the Skokomish River

The Skokomish River is the largest source of fresh water for Hood Canal, a 70-mile natural fjord-like side basin of Puget Sound. It is also the most frequently flooded river in Washington State. The Skokomish River is home to four species of salmon and trout that are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. After years of intense logging, road building and development in the watershed, strong partnerships have formed to turn the tide of worsening conditions and restore the river.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) provided funds to the Skokomish Tribe to complete one of the largest logjam projects in the Pacific Northwest. Through the support of many partners throughout Hood Canal, 30 massive man-made logjams were placed along 1 mile of the mainstem South Fork Skokomish River last summer. These structures were installed to stabilize streambanks, restore stream function, and improve aquatic habitat in a reach that had been cleared for a proposed reservoir in the 1950s. The goal of the project is to improve fish habitat by increasing pools and habitat complexity--large pools create microhabitats where fish can hide and stay cool. 

Logjam construction             (Photo: Skokomish Tribe)
 To create the logjams, over 2,000 second-growth trees were uprooted at upland sites and transported to the stream by helicopter. The trees averaged 100 feet long and were embedded far into the streambanks using excavators. Smaller trees and log sections were then carefully wedged in to create a very complex and dense logjam. Planting of trees along banks and within the floodplains has also begun and will continue in following years.

The structures were placed strategically in a section of the South Fork Skokomish that had few natural logjams. This area, approximately 11-14 miles upstream from where the Skokomish empties into Hood Canal, was heavily logged in the 1950's and 1960's in preparation for a dam that was never built. The lack of streamside structure allowed the river to subsequently grow wider and shallower, causing the water temperature to rise. The addition of these logjams should cause the water to carve out a deeper, more natural channel, result in cooler temperatures, and help retain spawning gravels for the fish to use. In addition, vegetation is likely to grow along the edges of the logjams, eventually shading the river and providing natural structure.

Fortunately, the logjams held up well to last winter’s storms and flooding. Few components of a small number of the jams were lost, while several of the structures even managed to collect additional logs that were floating downstream. As of April 2011, deep pools had already formed downstream of the logjams, creating places for fish to rest, find refuge, and feed. With these habitat improvements, the upper reaches of the Skokomish River should be able to support larger runs of threatened steelhead and bull trout. Additional benefits will accrue for federally-listed summer/fall and spring Chinook salmon, coho salmon, rainbow and cutthroat trout, and lampreys.

Before construction              (Photo: Skokomish Tribe)

After construction                (Photo: Skokomish Tribe)
The Skokomish Tribe sponsored this project. Partners included the U.S. Forest Service, TEAMS Enterprise, FWS, Hood Canal Coordinating Council, and the Skokomish Watershed Action Team. The Skokomish Tribe acquired $729,000 in Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board and FWS grant funding for this project. The Forest Service contributed $525,000, which includes the value of the trees, planning and construction costs.

More logjams are needed downstream of the project area and construction will begin as soon as funding and approval is acquired.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Pacific Lamprey Redd Surveys in the Chehalis and Willapa River Basins

Pacific lamprey, Lampetra tridentata, are very primitive, eel-like fish that historically were widely distributed from Mexico north along the Pacific Rim to Japan. They are culturally important to indigenous people throughout their range, and play a vital role in the ecosystem as food for mammals, fish and birds, for nutrient cycling and storage, and as a prey buffer for other species. Lamprey are also used for scientific research, educational purposes, vitamin oil, and anti-coagulants.

Pacific lamprey spawning 
(Photo:  K. Figlar-Barnes, WDFW)
Pacific lamprey are anadromous, meaning that they live in both fresh and salt water. Adults are parasitic and live in the ocean where they feed on the blood and bodily fluids of marine mammals and fish. After about 2 years in the ocean, they return to fresh water streams to spawn. After entering fresh water, the adults either stop feeding and spawn or they overwinter and spawn the following spring. Lamprey construct nests (redds) in small gravel where they lay their eggs. Like salmon, lamprey die soon after spawning. Eggs hatch after several weeks and the blind larvae are called ammocoetes. The ammocoetes live in fine sediment, filter feeding on algae and detritus. After 4 to 6 years as an ammocoete, Pacific lamprey metamorphose to a juvenile life stage called macropthalmia. The juvenile lamprey migrate out to the ocean where they mature into adults, growing to about 2 feet in length.

Pacific lamprey are vulnerable to many of the same threats that have reduced salmon populations. These threats include poor habitat conditions, water pollution, and dam passage. Like salmon, the abundance and range of Pacific lamprey have been reduced. To improve their distribution and abundance, we are working with our partners to address threats, restore habitat, and fill in large data gaps on Pacific lamprey. One of the data gaps we are currently addressing is the distribution and abundance of spawning lamprey in Washington coastal rivers in the Chehalis and Willapa River basins.

Beginning in March and continuing through June, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists and scientific technicians conduct spawning ground surveys to estimate natural spawning steelhead populations. The survey crews identify and monitor steelhead redds and, since 2005, have also been counting any Pacific lamprey redds and adults they see during these surveys. Because some of the steelhead index survey coverage does not include the Pacific lamprey spawning timing, we contracted with WDFW  in 2010 to cover the lamprey spawning period from June through August.

For this project, WDFW selected 30 (50%) of their 60 steelhead index reaches to survey for lamprey. Indexes were selected based on previous years’ lamprey spawning timing, redd density, habitat type, location within the basin, and proximity to other indexes. Similar to the steelhead program, surveys were conducted every 10 to 14 days and began on June 1. Survey staff were instructed to record all visible Pacific lamprey redds along with any live or dead adults they saw. This visible redd count data provides relative abundance estimates and spawning timing data.

Mid to late July appears to be the end of the spawning time period for Pacific lamprey in both the Willapa and Chehalis basins; 28% of the visible lamprey redd activity occurred after the WDFW cut-off date used for steelhead spawning ground surveys. A total of 539 redds were observed in 2010---this is very encouraging as it is an increase compared to the previous 2009 spawning season (see graph below). However, the 2010 redd count data was down by an estimated 37% compared to the average number of redds over the 2005-2009 spawning seasons.

As funding allows, we hope to continue these extended Pacific lamprey redd surveys in the future so that we can use this data to monitor the status of these fish populations.

For more information on FWS Pacific lamprey activities:

Coloring book:

Pacific lamprey fact sheet:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Slime, Fins, Scales, and Organs Galore!

Thurston County and Chehalis Basin Students Explore Salmon Anatomy from the Outside – In

Curious minds took full advantage of the opportunity to explore fish anatomy and physiology at the Student GREEN Congress (Thurston County) and Chehalis Basin Education Consortium Student Congress this past March. Every year, participating 4th through 12th grade classrooms gather water quality samples from local watersheds (over 2,000 and 1,500 students involved respectively). Classroom delegates were selected (over 380 and 300 students respectively) to present their findings to both peers and natural resource professionals at these culminating Congress events.

Prior to the event, students signed up for workshops offered by local professionals and community volunteers. These conservation-based courses served as supplemental learning components to the water quality reports presented by the student delegates. Dan Spencer, USFWS fisheries technician and educator, provided two workshops at each event. Joe Jauquet, a local salmon biologist, also provided dissection instruction at the Student Green Congress.

Dan and Joe with salmon carcass
These workshops focused on salmon anatomy and physiology. Two giant salmon carcasses were laid out in front of students as Dan and Joe carefully explained the dissection process and safety procedures. Many students gasped, some students cringed, but within moments all students were completely silent, in awe of one of our nation’s greatest natural resources.

Seeing this as a teachable moment, Dan and Joe began by explaining how the salmon that the students were about to dissect were once living creatures. “We need to show respect for these fish. It is amazing how these fish even survived to adulthood. Out of 2,000 to 4,000 eggs, only one or two are typically successful in making this impressive round trip journey.” The children inched closer, their eyes focused on the bodies that lay before them.

Dan dissecting salmon carcass
Once the gloves were passed around the circle, Dan honed the message further by asking a simple yet poignant question, “How are we like salmon?” At first no one knew how to answer. Eventually one child timidly raised her hand and asked “We both have eyes?” Dan broke into an enthusiastic smile as he proclaimed “Yes! What else?” Soon there were shouts coming from all directions. “We have a head!” “Yes!” “A heart!” “Yes!” “A brain! A stomach!” “Yes! Yes!”

As soon as the excitement settled, Joe began to gingerly dissect the first carcass. “Does anyone know what these are?” Joe asked in almost a whisper. “Gills.” replied a little boy closest to me. “That’s right. And what do we have that are like gills?” “Lungs?” “Correct. Gills extract oxygen from the water like our lungs extract oxygen from the air.”

Students passing
around salmon organs 
As Joe passed the salmon gills around the circle, the children cradled them as if they were made out of glass. The connection that Dan and Joe both made between humans and nature seemed to hit home in a deep and meaningful way.

Before we knew it, the workshop was over. “This was an awesome session! I am so glad that I signed up for it. I learned so much about fish!” I heard one girl whisper to her friend. “It was gross but awesome!” a young boy exclaimed to his friend. “It was gross-ome!” his friend replied back. I personally could not agree more.

For more information on South Sound GREEN:

For more information on the Chehalis Basin Education Consortium: