Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Musings on the Olympic Mudminnow

Olympic mudminnows in their habitat

Last week, staff from our office and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife took a group of Olympia High School students out to the Green Cove Olympic mudminnow site. There the students learned mudminnow basics (including history, policy, and anatomy), entomology/invertebrates, and a little bit about mudminnow diet analysis. Then they pulled minnow traps and did some sampling in the wetland. At the end of the day, the students were asked by their teacher to take a few moments to write a poem or draw a piece of art that related to what they learned that day.  Here’s what they wrote:

Olympic mudminnow - male
The majestic unturned land.
It lies in the midst of a world of sand.
The glass turns, but the minnows stay.
They would fray.
~ Kevin Kalb

What I Learned
In the beginning I didn’t know much
But then I began to touch.
I touched the minnow in the bucket
And slowly I began to check it.
They only live on Washington’s coast
If they don’t then they are toast.
Thank you teachers for teaching me much
So I can tell my friends and such.
~ Calla Chen

Olympic mudminnow - female
Solitary Fish
Although the water cradles the mosses and brush
Many minnows lie.
~Cody Seales

In the water I love to go
Just like this mudminnow.
So fast so swift but always in danger
I’ll protect this fish forever in the manger.
~ Mike Schulte

Listen Listen
Listen listen do you hear
The free and wild minnows tear.
Is there hope is there life for these free and wild minnows to fight?
Listen again I say to you
Help these minnows so it will free you too.
~ Benjamin Boggs

I saw a fish
Smaller than a knife
And now I see
The meaning of life
~Andre Amaral

Minnow minnow in the pond.
How I see a leafy frond.
Over there across the water.
My oh my it’s getting hotter
Minnow minnow in the pond
You kinda look like James Bond.
~Sean Frymire

Wetland - Olympic mudminnow "home"

My Home
Wetlands, the place I call my home
If my home is destroyed where will I go?
Is a home for you better than a home for me?
The swampy, muddy marsh is my idea of a home
Where I swim, eat, and play all day.
My home the wetlands.
~Meghan Midkiff

The water isn’t clean
and I’m all dressed up in neoprene
Meghan, Lauryn, and Bryan is the team.
I’m a minnow catching fiend.
The ladies like to nag
B-RY has got the fish in the bag
With a little bit of mud and some frog ovary swag
~Bryan Villavicencio

I see a minnow over there
That little guy has no hair.
He is small not like a bear
I walk slow so he won’t scare.
~Casey Vaughn

Olympic Mudminnows
Translucent bodies, flecks of gold, love to live in a quiet environment protected by tall red alder, hidden in grasses, swishing in mud, they survive the elements, deposited by a glacier only found in Washington; sensitive to changes in the wetlands.
~Nic Cereghino

To find out more about the Olympic mudminnow, please see our earlier post.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mass Marking and Tagging at National Fish Hatcheries

Howard in the autofish trailer
When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them that I’m in charge of running a manual mass marking and tagging trailer, as well as an autofish trailer. Then I get the “uh-huh” nod and the “that’s nice” comment. So let me explain in more detail what I do for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 

Our office supports Quilcene, Quinault, and Makah National Fish Hatcheries. My work includes operating a 44’ trailer to mass mark all of the fish at each of these hatcheries. Mass marking helps us determine whether a fish was raised in a hatchery or is a wild fish.  Mass marking is done by clipping the adipose fin from each hatchery fish by hand with scissors. A percentage of the fish are also tagged with a coded-wire tag. A coded-wire tag is 2.2mm long by 4 hair widths wide and has a six-digit code imprinted on it. This code lets us determine where the fish originated---a USFWS hatchery, a Washington State hatchery, or a tribal hatchery.

        Marking a young salmon (left) and manually tagging a young salmon (right)        
By law, all salmon and steelhead released from Federal hatcheries have to be massed marked unless the fish are being used in a study. So each year I work with many others to mark a lot of fish! Makah National Fish Hatchery raises 2.4 million fall Chinook salmon, 240,000 coho salmon, and 180,000 winter steelhead; Quinault National Fish Hatchery raises 600,000 coho salmon and 200,000 winter steelhead; and Quilcene National Fish Hatchery raises 600,000 coho salmon. 

The manual mass marking and tagging trailer that I operate needs one operator and 12 crew members to make the trailer run. When we are only mass marking the fish, we can mark about 60,000 to 80,000 fish per day in an 8-hour shift with a full crew. When we are tagging the fish, we can tag about 30,000 to 45,000 fish in an 8-hour shift.

Inside the autofish trailer
The autofish trailer that I operate needs one operator and two crew members to make the trailer run. This trailer has six automated stations and one station in the back of the trailer for the two crew members. It can mark and tag about 60,000-100,000 fish in an 8-hour period. The trailer measures the length of each fish and then sends the fish to one of the six stations. For example, the operator can tell the computer to send all fish that are 100mm to 120mm long to Station 1; send the fish that are 121mm to 130mm long to Station 2, and so on. All of the fish that are outside of the programmed size ranges are sent to the back of the trailer to be marked and/or tagged manually.

So, in a nutshell, I’m responsible for the supervision of the clipping/tagging crew, monitoring the health of the fish during marking and tagging, and coordinating with my peers at the hatcheries, fish health center, tribes, and other agencies. If you stop by any of the USFWS hatcheries on the Olympic Peninsula and see our trailer, please knock on the door and ask for a tour. I’ll be happy to show you how it all works!

-- Howard Gearns, Biological Science Technician/Mass Marking and Tagging Trailer Supervisor