Thursday, August 9, 2012

A day as an Acting Hatchery Manager at Dworshak NFH


My alarm goes off at 5 am.  I’m tired.  I’ve been teaching Hunter Safety after work this week from 5:00 to 8:00 pm.  After I got done with the kids last night, I pulled the short straw for night duty.  Night duty involves checking on the facility to ensure all the doors are secure, water is flowing, the fish are happy and several pumps are switched.

I eat some breakfast and read a copy of “Bugle” magazine.  Archery Elk season is only a month away and I’m stoked for the chance to get out.  We’re in the process of hiring two new biologists – I’m hoping they’ll cover my absence in September.  No wait, they will cover – one of the perks of being the manager.

At 5:30 am I head over to the Hatchery.  My “normal” work shift is 7:00 to 3:30, but I’ve got a couple of things to catch up on.  Since I live on the Hatchery, it is a short walk to work.  I pass through the Steelhead Burrows Ponds and make a mental note to turn up flows to each pond – I’ll contact the lead maintenance mechanic this morning to turn on another river pump.  Our Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) pump is almost maxed out.

On my morning rounds, our water treatment operator flags me down to talk Chinook fishing.  The season is winding down, but the anglers are still catching fish.  The speculation is now turning towards why the steelhead are hung-up in the Columbia.  The fish managers are thinking thermal block.  They’ll likely lobby the Corps of Engineers to flush more water from the bottom of Dworshak Reservoir to cool the Snake River.  It’s a catch 22 for the Hatchery.  We certainly want the Steelhead returning to the Snake River, but the increased dam discharges will spike the supersaturated nitrogen gas levels in the river.  Since we pump this river water to supply the Hatchery, the current generation will struggle to ensure the previous generation can return and spawn.  

I stop by our adult trap and notice 252 adults on our fish counter.  The counter has been very accurate lately, and I’m glad to see another 30 fish from yesterday.  We have collected almost all of our Chinook broodstock, but several other area hatcheries are short.  We need about 750 more fish to make everyone’s goals.  

As I travel back to the office, I stop to talk with one of our fish culturists.  He is working on fixing a garage door that won’t shut.  I offer my hands as help, but not much else.  We leave the door in time to amble to the morning meeting by 7:00 am – our official start time.  Rob will fix the door later today.

We meet every morning to go over a quick game plan and any unusual stuff happening.  Our new Safety Officer has tracked down some respirator protection information regarding OSHA regulations.  A collective groan fills the room when I mention OSHA regulations.  We’ve not been changing our respirator cartridges often enough for dispensing formalin.  OSHA requires them to be changed every 3 hours.  We treat the adult fish twice a week to control fungus growth.  Formalin is a derivative of formaldehyde – nasty stuff to work with, but effective as a fish treatment.  Rob turns in his respirator cartridges dated February 15, 2007.  Probably a good thing OSHA changed the rules!   Of course, the groans are from the changes in safety protocols over the years; many of us never even used respirators when we started.

The OSHA stuff is enough for one morning, we break to start our day.
I head towards my office and remember we didn’t finish bolting down a formalin pump yesterday, I duck into the incubation room and spend 5 minutes putting on the finishing touches.  As I walk out, the hatchery alarm goes off.  I radio our head mechanic and he says it is a “low flow nursery” alarm.  If I had a dollar for every false alarm from this sensor, I’d probably retire.  This time it is the real deal!  I briskly walk to the nursery.  Wayne flags me down – he set the alarm off moving water to pump steelhead fingerlings out to the fish marking trailer.  No problem, Wayne has as much experience in the nursery as anyone, we’re in safe hands there.

I talk to Wayne briefly about production supplies and tracking down a larger chemical pump for our formalin delivery system.  With this new cartridge change-out schedule, we may be able to afford a mechanical fix rather than exposing our staff.  Wayne will call some of our contacts at another hatchery to see what they’ve done.

I make it too my office at 8:00 am.  There are 22 emails since yesterday afternoon – maybe I would be better off with Facebook instead of email – about half of these need to be answered immediately.  I punch those out and then head upstairs to meet with our Aquaculture Engineer about a new idea for treating our effluent from the System 3 Burrows Ponds.  Our meeting is brief, I’m on schedule for a 9:00 am meeting. 

 I step out of his office just in time for the 9:00 am meeting.  I beat my boss there, so I’ll consider that early.  The meeting is to discuss a disease outbreak in the Chinook fingerlings.  We are experiencing some chronic mortality in one raceway.  Fish Health has isolated Infectious Hepatic Necrosis (IHN).  This is unusual in Chinook, but not unheard of.  The Chinook will usually fight off the infection themselves unlike steelhead.  Plans are made to split the fingerlings into several raceways.  Lower densities should decrease the stress on the fish and help them fight off the infection.
I leave the meeting at 9:45 am and head outside to help clean System 3 Burrows Ponds.  It’s time to put the Engineer’s idea to the test.  There are 10 of us sweeping the bottoms of the rearing ponds.  We’re going to max the system out to see if it is effective at settling the solids out.  Two biologists are staged with radios to take water samples.  There is some chatter on my radio from them communicating back and forth.  I’m sweeping a pond and able to daydream some, elk hunting for a second, then a reality check.  The System is getting too much water.  I check my pond broom and make the 100 yard walk to turn on another pump.  A balancing act, no doubt.  Cleaning takes just shy of an hour, the test is looking good, I’m almost finished when my cell phone rings, conference call in 10 minutes with our Tribe and State partners.
I head upstairs to take the conference call.  The State and Tribal hatcheries are short on Chinook brood stock.  We hammer out some details on the egg transfer.  The State Hatchery manager is going on vacation next week – hence the rushed conference call.  Should have sent them an email this morning….hindsight.

By the end of the call, it’s time for lunch.  I walk home to see my wife and two daughters.  Lunch is short as usual, about 15 minutes.  I stop over at my neighbor’s house to get a ride back to the Hatchery.  My neighbor is one of our maintenance mechanics.  We talk about a new water leak near the Kelt tanks on the 2 minute drive over the bridge.  He’ll check it out later today.
I have a meeting at noon with the Complex Manager, Engineer and the Snake River Basin Adjudication Coordinator.  The Army Corps of Engineers contractors have come up with several retrofits to fix the Hatchery’s pollutant discharge issues.  These guys work on commission, so several ideas seem to make more sense financially than practically.

This meeting is a pre-meeting to the conference call with the contractors.  The call goes well, we are steering the direction to a more economical solution that will save money and have a better chance of funding.  The future looks bright, albeit a ways off still.

It’s nearing 3:00 pm when I get back to my office.  I make it halfway, and get de-briefed on remaining work to set-up the Chinook raceways for adipose clipping operations on Monday.  All stuff that we’ll have to tackle tomorrow.  I make it back to my office and get a visit from the Maintenance Supervisor.  They’ve changed the schedule for painting the parking lot lines.  We’ll have to herd our 40 Complex butterflies to park in alternative spots tomorrow.  Short notice, but that’s what email is for, right?

Thirty emails have appeared over the day, only about 10 need answers, so I punch some out and vow to finish the rest on night rounds tonight.  Its 3:45 pm, I need to get home to get some stuff together for the Hunter Safety class.  

I get home at 4:00 pm just in time for one of our new biologists recruits to pull-in.  He’s here with his wife to check out real estate.  We haven’ t made any official offers, but the Hatchery system is a small world and we are all friends and colleagues.  He has a boat he’d like to store it for awhile, my other neighbor, Wayne, didn’t hesitate to offer some of his driveway space.  It’s the generosity of our crew that makes my day.  I get a call from the Complex Manager and send the new recruit to go look at a house that our old program assistant is selling – small world and small town.  

I’m almost running late for my class, I grab a muzzleloader and a tanned elk hide.  My first elk ever, taken with a muzzleloader I built myself.  Back to daydreaming about elk hunting…. I pull in the parking lot and a parent wants to negotiate an alternate day for the field day.  I’m a fish guy, so I bite, we’ll make accommodations for his daughter.

I almost make it into the class and a biologist from our neighboring hatchery grabs me with some ideas on a steatitis study in Chinook.  It sounds like a great plan, I make an appointment to meet with him on our first break from class at 6 pm.

The hunter safety class flies by, I don’t meet with the biologist, he had a crisis from the fish marking crew to deal with.  We’ll catch up tomorrow.

I arrive back home, and say hi to my daughters and wife, its bedtime, and I still need to do night checks of the Hatchery.  I make my rounds with my black lab, she’s a great companion.  Finds every dead fish and any spilled feed.  I’ll make a note that we need to keep sweeping that stuff up.  Everything looks good around the facility.  I turn up our main aeration VFD pump since I didn’t get a chance to talk with the lead maintenance mechanic this morning.  On my way by the Burrows Ponds, I adjust some flows up to accommodate the additional water.  

I check the leak by the Kelt tanks, still no easy solution.  I also turn on the System 2 pump so we are ready for cleaning operations next week.  Its 9:00 pm, so I call Rick King to give him a heads-up.  He’s still awake, and I’m glad I didn’t roust him from bed for something this simple. 
By 10:00 pm, I’m back home.  With any luck, the ghost alarm in the nursery will stay off so I can get some extra sleep for tomorrow!
by Nate Wiese

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Splitting Salmon


It is common to hear hatchery folk saying things like, “it’s time to split the steelhead again” or “the fish are getting crowded, let’s split ‘em”. But what on earth does that mean? Rest assured we aren’t cutting the fish in half; rather we are moving fish from one pond into several. 
These steelhead are very crowded and need to be split.

There are a few reason we split our fish here at Dworshak. The main reason is that at some point the fish get too large for their current pond, or there are too many fish in the pond, and become crowded. If fish are crowded they become stressed and are more likely to get sick. Steelhead are more likely to become aggressive and nip at fins when they are crowded so this is another reason to split the fish. Fin loss and fin erosion can also lead to disease. Since our goal is to raise healthy, high quality fish we defiantly don’t want to keep the fish stressed or over crowded.

Crowding fish, the pipe on the left is the inlet to the fish pump.
The process of splitting fish is simple. One person uses an aluminum mesh screen to crowd the fish close together so they can be pumped from their current pond into a vacant pond. The fish make a pass through a computerized fish counter so we know exactly how many fish end up in the new pond. (The video below show how fish move through the fish counter.) Another person controls the speed of the pump and watches the fish counter to be sure there is always just the right amount of fish traveling through the fish counter. If too many fish are being pumped at once the counter can’t keep up and the final ponding number will be off. This can affect feed rates and growth estimates. 
video

This marking trailer will clip fins and tag our Chinook salmon.
We will begin splitting our 2011 Chinook next week. These fish are still pretty small, only about 3.25” or 120 fish to the pound. But because of the number of fish in each pond, they have out grown their current rearing space. The Chinook will not only be counted on the trip to their new raceway, but will go through a marking trailer. Their adipose fin will be clipped off to designate them as a hatchery fish- legal to keep if it ends up on the end of your line! A smaller portion of the fish will also receive a coded wire tag. This tiny tag is encoded with a number that is hatchery, species, and brood year specific and is used by biologists for management purposes.
A Chinook with a tiny coded wire tag in its snout

It will take about two weeks for the tagging team to split, mark, and tag our 1.8 million Chinook. But once those fish are moved they will remain in their new pond until March, at which point they will be released into the North Fork Clearwater River. If any of these fish end up on your fishing line when they return as adults, you may split them however you like!

By Angela Feldmann