Friday, March 30, 2012

Wild Fish Go Where They Please

Wild fish go where they please. This can make catching them somewhat difficult, but there are ways to direct fish in the direction you want them to go. Juvenile salmon naturally migrate downstream and we use this instinct to our advantage when trying to collect information about their size and numbers.

Screw trap (at bottom) with panels
When setting up a sampling device such as a screw trap or fyke net, fish need to be guided into the trap. The trap is usually set up in the middle of a stream or in higher flow areas and, in some cases, panels need to be set up to act as a wall. This wall of panels is set up so that it points downstream like an arrow, directing fish into the trap. Once the fish are caught, they are measured, weighed, and marked. They are then released, unharmed, to continue their migration downstream.

Scientists have used weir panels to control the movement of fish for decades. Knowing the amount of fish that use a river is vital in sustaining a healthy population. The information collected from these sampling activities tells scientists if a fish population is in danger and if action needs to be taken to protect it.  In this way, we can protect fish populations for future generations to enjoy and appreciate

If you see panels like these (or ones like them) in a river or stream, please do not touch them. Climbing on or wiggling them could endanger the information they are helping to collect. Please feel free to LOOK, but DON’T TOUCH. Scientists are trying to help the fish and we need your help to do it!  


Thursday, March 15, 2012

USFWS Internship & Mentoring Programs

Zach Moore
Greetings!  My name is Zach Moore and I am a fisheries and outreach intern with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Lacey, Washington. This internship is in conjunction with The Evergreen State College, where I am a sophomore focusing on environmental science & education. While my college coursework has been essential in preparing me for a career in my focus areas, the importance of resume-building professional experience cannot be overemphasized. The Evergreen State College provides its students with credit-earning opportunities for gaining this type of experience. For example, the “Citizen Science: Ecoliteracy” class that I am currently taking actually requires at least 80 hours of internship work. So when the USFWS posted an internship opportunity this past fall, I jumped on it.

This internship has already provided me with top-notch experience in both of my college focuses. For environmental education, I have had a lot of opportunities to work in classrooms with students, including visits to Onalaska High School, Reeves Middle School, Mill Creek Elementary, and a field trip with Timberland High School students to Tolmie State Park. During these events, I assisted with classroom presentations and fish dissections. It has been great interacting with these future natural resource stewards and their enthusiasm been nothing short of contagious.

Zach with weir panel
For the environmental science component, one highlight was assisting with the Elwha River weir project. A fish weir is a tool that is used to capture, count, and study fish populations. It is like a fence that spans across the river directing migrating salmon and steelhead into a trap box. We made two separate multi-day trips to Port Angeles to repair the weir panels and then install the weir in the river. It was great to be able to get in a dry suit, slap a snorkel on my face, and dive in the Elwha River to install the panels I had previously repaired. The visibility in the river was less than 6 inches during the days I was working and installing the panels which proved to be both challenging and rewarding. It was awesome to have the opportunity to assist with this historic project. Now that the dams are being removed, this fish weir will help document how the salmon and steelhead respond to having access to the upper Elwha River once again.

Zach and USFWS biologist installing weir panel
This rewarding experience has motivated me to pursue a full quarter-long internship with the USFWS this spring. Instead of averaging 10 hours a week like I did this past winter quarter, I will be working 30-40 hours a week and gaining far more experience. I will be leading my own classroom curriculum and gaining experience in a variety of field projects including electrofishing, screw trapping for outmigrating salmon, and Olympic mudminnow sampling . . . all of this while earning college credits! This sort of experience will really pay off when it’s time to compete for paid positions. 

For a video explaining the Elwha River weir project (including installation and sampling footage), visit:


Friday, March 2, 2012

Spreading the Word to Prevent the Spread of Invasive Species

“How would these invasive species (quagga and zebra mussels) impact the salmon fishery?” 
“It only took 6 months for them to destroy that boat motor?!” 
“The quagga mussel has already spread to lakes in northern Nevada?!!” 

Mussel-encrusted lower boat unit
While a picture may be worth 1,000 words, the invasive species displays at our informational booth at the 2012 Seattle Boat Show produced several thousand concerned comments. Fisheries Division staff of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Office spent the 10 days of the show educating as many recreational and commercial boaters as possible in the prevention and further spread of these aquatic hitchhikers. The booth featured a dramatic quagga mussel-encrusted lower boat unit from Lake Mead (NV) that was rendered inoperable from an accumulation of shells. In addition to the display, the booth provided outreach materials including identification cards, pamphlets, and brochures.

“Well, I don’t have to worry about that, do I? I keep my boat in salt water.” 
“Can’t I just move my boat to salt water to kill them?” 
“How long do I need to dry out my boat in order to kill them?” 

These were some common questions that demonstrate the overall lack of knowledge in the boating community. These questions (and more) were answered at the informational booth through direct discussions and informational handouts. This was the perfect venue for such outreach work, as recreational and professional boaters are a primary vector for these invasive species to reach new bodies of water. While the displays demonstrated the impact of zebra and quagga mussels, the five USFWS employees manning the booth during the show also provided information on additional invasive species including New Zealand mudsnails, European green crabs, nutria, and aquatic plants including milfoil and hydrilla. With the Seattle Boat Show averaging 60,000 attendees per year, we were able to raise awareness about the importance of invasive species identification, reporting, inspection stations, and personal inspections combined with thorough sterilization methods through wash downs and boat/trailer drying. With a more informed public, we now have more tools to prevent further spread of these devastating invaders. 

Providing information about invasive species

Public outreach is currently our best line of defense in this very important battle. Invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels have been both economically and environmentally costly since their introduction in the United States. Mussel accumulation on commercial and recreational vessels, for example, results in poor fuel efficiency and performance (due to increased weight and friction), as well as increased engine/motor maintenance and expenses. In addition, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually keeping these invasive species at bay where they infest public works systems including water treatment facilities, hydroelectric plants, irrigation pipes, dams, and reservoirs. Their proliferation has also led to decreased food availability for fish and covering of essential fish passage by their razor-sharp shells.

While this event had a strong focus on water vessel transport, it is important to keep in mind the variety of pathways that invasive species take advantage of in order to spread to new areas.  For more information on how you can help prevent the spread of invasive species, please visit the following links: 


National Invasive Species Information Center
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Aquatic Invasive Species
Washington Invasive Species Council
Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers
USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Information


“Don’t Move a Mussel” (YouTube video)
Watercraft Inspection & Decontamination training (YouTube video)