Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Smolt 101

Juvenile Chinook salmon. Credit: Rodger Tabor/USFWS
I was talking with Ray Jones, a biologist from the Idaho Fisheries Resource Office this morning about our upcoming Spring Chinook Salmon release and the conversation took a very interesting turn towards the process of smolting. When an anadromous fish smolts it goes through a series of physiological, morphological and behavioral changes that readies its body for the transition from freshwater to saltwater habitats. The most noticeable change we see in smolting fish is body coloration. Pre-smolts, or parr show distinct pigment spots or bars. Smolting fish show a distinct silvering of their scales and underlying skin. This silvering is caused by the synthesis of guaine and hypoxanthine, two purines that are the result of protein catabolism (the breakdown of complex molecules into simpler ones).  If you think about the habitat a salmon smolt is transitioning to you can realize the importance of this adaptation. A slivery colored fish will blend into a pelagic (open ocean) environment much better than a brownish fish with spots and bars.
Chinook salmon smolt are silver in color and lose their parr marks.
Credit: Dr. Billy Conner/USFWS

There is a lot going on inside the fish too. There are a host of hormonal and cellular transformations that allow the fish to survive in salt water. These changes are very complex and are only seen in anadromous fish. It is amazing to know that these animals make the transformation from freshwater fish to saltwater fish and then one to four years later do the reverse!

Schooling Chinook and Coho smolts. Credit: USFWS courtesy of Yakama Nation Fisheries
So next time you see our friend the salmon, whether it be at the Hatchery, in the grocery store, or on the end of your fishing line, remember the journey these amazing fish undergo for their survival, and to benefit of all the animals (and people) that depend on them!

By Angela Feldmann

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Maximizing Use of the Resource-A Connection to Food Banks and Beyond

One of the most popular questions at the hatchery is, “What do you do with all of the adult steelhead after you spawn them?”  Prior to 2011, the post-spawn adult steelhead were provided to researchers (e.g. bear food, nutrient supplementation, etc.), or used for outreach efforts (e.g. classroom dissections, etc.); however, these requests demanded a small portion of the available adults resulting from spawning operations.  The remaining surplus post-spawn adults were taken to the transfer station, a charge (based on weight) was assessed and the fish eventually made their way to a landfill along with other common household refuse. 

In 2011, hatchery staff contacted the local Food Bank of Orofino, Idaho in pursuit of acquiring a secondary use of these fish in addition to securing another brood year of eggs to meet hatchery production targets for the Clearwater, Magic Valley, and Dworshak hatcheries. 

On spawning days, a couple volunteers (referred to as “servants”) load post-spawned adult steelhead at the Dworshak hatchery into large totes in a truck/trailer.  These fish are transported to a local shop in Kamiah, Idaho where a growing group of diligent servants meet following the day’s spawning efforts.  An assembly line for processing the fish takes form and the fish are filleted, washed, chunked, wrapped and labeled. 

Fresh fish is then transported by volunteers to food banks in Orofino, Grangeville, Kamiah, Kooskia and Elk River, Idaho.  Nearly 1,500 steelhead were provided to area food banks in 2011 and over 2,000 steelhead will be circulated through area food banks in 2012. 
God’s fish going back to feed his people!

After processing, the carcasses (head, tails, bones and entrails) are utilized for compost by local gardeners…….thus maximizing the use of the resource!

By Mark Drobish

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My Job as a Junior

Katie helping out in the Administrative office

I love to sing. It has been my passion since I can remember. My lifelong dream has been to make it on Broadway; to be an actress and a singer in New York City, the city of cities! But I knew that if I ever wanted to get there someday, I’d have to finish high school with good grades, go to college to become an even better singer, and, most importantly, get a job! Down in Burley, where I used to live, there weren’t very many opportunities for teenagers to get jobs. If there’s a rat race for teenagers, it’s getting jobs. It’s a very competitive market and only those with the best experience and amazing resumes get hired. So when I moved to the pretty little town Orofino and got the high school position at Dworshak National Fish Hatcheries, I was thrilled. It meant I was on my way to New York!

Having this job at the Hatchery has taught me so much in the past six months. I have learned how to file and use a computer more efficiently, how to pick out Mort’s (the dead fish and/or fish eggs), and many more things. The workers here at the hatchery are friendly, and made me feel welcome on the spot. My first day on the job, I was wearing high heels. Little did I know that I’d be carrying huge boxes up the stairs and would fall right back down the stairs with those boxes. But after all those who saw the scene and I had a good laugh, they helped me with the boxes. The working atmosphere is friendly, and during our breaks, laughter rings through the halls.

Katie winning Junoir Miss 2012
Every other Friday I’m in the office answering phones, filing, and doing other many things, and the other Fridays I’m down in the basement or outside, getting some one on one time with the fish. It’s a very fun job. I balance it out with being Junior Class President, planning prom, participating in Distinguished Young Women (which just barely ended for Orofino), and getting college applications and scholarships in.

This job, I believe, has in a way, helped me on my way to becoming more mature and ready for the real world. It has taught me how to be responsible, how to act around co-workers, and how to do many things that will help me in my future life (such as filing taxes and tax returns, how to use an Excel spreadsheet and how to make labels, and much more).
Katie pours steelhead eggs into a hatching column
I am so glad that the hatchery has a program for high school students to come in and work. It has helped me on my way to my dream, and has helped me to become more mature. I now know what is expected of one when they work for someone. I am so glad for the opportunity to work here and hope to keep working here for a long time yet.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Fish Health Externship

Hello! My name is Charlie and I am a senior veterinary student at Mississippi State University. I had the opportunity to spend one week at the Idaho Fish Health Center, as part of a month long externship devoted to fish health. The majority of my time in Orofino was dealing with fish health monitoring for the neighboring Nez Perce Tribe. I was able to visit and collect fish from acclimation points along the Snake River. The acclimation points are called Fall Chinook Acclimation Facilities.

The fish that are being held at these facilities are being monitored and acclimated until they are ready to be released.  Our health monitoring involved taking samples from a small group and performing special tests to determine the health status of the entire group. This testing is very important in that it will reduce the risk of introducing diseased fish into the wild. My time at the Idaho Fish Health Center was very rewarding and gave me a chance to understand what happens behind the scenes at a National Fish Health Center. Everyone at the lab was eager to teach and allowed me a great deal of hands-on experience. I had a wonderful time at the Idaho Fish Health Center and hope to visit again!

by Charlie Tucker