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!