I'm working as a Fish Culturist at Hidden Falls Salmon Hatchery in a remote spot near Sitka, Alaska! AM I CRAZY!? I'm starting to think so...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Chum and King Spawning... check!

I guess it has been a little while since I posted a blog… sorry about that.

Well, what’s new? A few days ago, we finished up with spawning. It’s definitely been a weird year… we didn’t get all of the eggs we needed but we should have enough anyhow. We were shooting for 19 Takatz incubators full of eggs and we only got 11, but we got all of our Hidden Falls eggs. We took eggs for the Deep Inlet program across the island, but we may end up stealing some of those for ourselves. We were supposed to take some amount of eggs for the Port Alexander hatchery also but… well that didn’t happen. Anyhow, after chum we are supposed to do Kings but since things are so screwy this year, we ended up taking a few day break from chum and doing the kings. Then we went back to chum. Towards the end of the chum spawning, it seemed we had more OTHER fish coming up instead of chum… kings and coho and a few pink salmon. The coho are a later spawning fish but they are coming in THICK right now, which is pretty crazy. Even though we finished up the kings, there are still a lot of those guys coming up into the raceways too, so while we are trying to get as many chum done as possible, you end up spending more time on the table sorting out the coho and kings and looking for tags and just trying to get them out of the way. This is such a pain too because the kings are really big and we have to cut most of them in half before we can send them down the grinder.

Last Friday, we had a tender (a boat that takes fish from all the seine boats and brings them to town) come to take all of our coho that were coming up. See, the coho are coming up into the raceways but they are really nice, bright fish right now and not ready to spawn. That means their meat is really nice, and instead of grinding a few thousand great looking fish, might as well get some money for them. So we had to load coho up into fish totes (plastic insulated boxes similar to bulk boxes for fruit) to take out there. They were taking the kings too, so those got loaded also. Well, this doesn’t sound so bad… BUT… there’s always a but! We normally shock the fish in the shock box and then bring them up, but that will cause bruising to the nice fish that we are trying to sell, so we couldn’t do that. For a little white, we were shocking them just a little bit but I think they determined that was still bad. So they started bringing them up live, which is pure chaos when you have 50 or so live fish going nuts on the sorting table! Thankfully I wasn’t a part of that “hitting squad.” Well, after a few of those boxes of live fish, the shock box decided to stop working. That means no more transporting fish onto the table. The plan, then, was to just turn off all the water in 4 raceways, all the coho and kings would go into totes and we’d spawn all of the chum, but that meant lifting each fish onto the table one at a time by hand. Lemme tell you, that was one of the most miserable, STUPID days I have had here. This all sounds so morbid, but after a while, the fish run out of oxygen in the raceways so they all pretty much die. That made it a lot easier but for a bit, they were rather crazy. We had to get all of the chum out of the raceways before we could take lunch, otherwise the eggs would go bad. Unfortunately, the stress of the whole thing made a lot of the fish just freak out and drop a lot of their eggs, so we didn’t even get THAT many eggs that day. Eventually we took lunch around 1:30 or so, but we had to come back and deal with all the rest of the fish. We are just talking about a few hundred fish… we are talking about a few thousand fish! One by one… lifting them out of the raceways. It’s not so bad doing the few random chum left and the coho because they are a small, light fish… averaging like 5 pounds or so. But the kings average like 20-25 pounds!! And there are definitely some in the 30+ pound range. One fish at a time… Sure didn’t need to work out THAT day. I think we were out there until about 7:30 getting fish out… I’m not sure how many… a lot of them went to the tender but a lot we had to just cut and send down the grinder. I know we sent 13,500 pounds of coho and 13,500 pounds of king salmon to the tender… which, at about 25 pounds, is about 550 kings. I know we also had to lift about 600 kings out of the raceway to be cut and ground up. All in all, it was a pretty ridiculous day that I’d never like to repeat again! Anyhow, so the water is off so no fish can go up the ladder. That day, too, Adam hurt his foot in the morning by dropping a fish tote on his foot that weighed around 50 or 60 pounds. He was out for the rest of the day and it swelled up a bit and was pretty sore but he was alright. It’s a little sore now, a week later, but he’s good.

Well the next day, Saturday the 16th, was the spawning party (even though we weren’t done spawning at that point). It was a pretty fun night! The weather wasn’t very nice but no one seemed to care that much… a little rain never hurt anyone. I spent the earlier part of the day making sugar cookies in the shape of salmon and bears. Adam, the day before, made my potato salad for me, and made smoked salmon dip. I also made a chocolate cheesecake for Adam’s birthday the next day. The party started later with a feast of Hidden Falls proportions… that means lots of meats and some other stuff. Then we began our horseshoe tournament (which we never did finish, but Adam and I won our game). Then, our came the amusement. See, a few days before, I was telling Jess, one of the seasonals from last year, that I was going to be making a cheesecake for Adam’s birthday. Somehow, piñatas came up… the next day she said she was going to buy one. So she did… A Superman piñata that they decided to stuff with some random candy and miniature booze bottles! It was supposed to be a secret but Deena told Adam… so he had to act surprised. So the day of the party, Jess and I tied Superman to the forks of the loader and Shannon drove it out. Watching Adam swing at that piñata with his eyes covered and using a little spawning bat (looks like a Police bat) was probably the funniest thing I have ever seen! Shannon was moving it around so he couldn’t get it… then once it hit Adam in the back of the head as he’s swinging wildly! Finally he whacked it and the whole thing flew to the ground but didn’t break, but since Adam was blindfolded he just kept swinging at the air like crazy. They tied it back up and I think that’s when he took down the blindfold and just whacked it and mini booze bottles flew everywhere! It was hilarious and a pretty funny way to turn a piñata into some good ol Adult fun!


Lots of viewers for the horseshoe tournament...


Ready to attack!

So after the piñata shenanigans, we did our spawning games. Pretty much the same as last year… the bucking contest (umm shooting the contents of the male fish), the chum toss (literally throwing a chum), and a second chum toss as pairs. I was ready to win in the bucking contest this year and I was in the lead with a distance of 20 feet 4 inches for a little bit, but Dan and Deena both beat me by a good two feet… so I got a t-shirt for coming in third place. I got a video of it for Dad, since he thought it was really funny and wanted to see. Then I ALMOST won the girl chum toss… I jokingly blame Jess for beating me because she stole the fish I was going to use! The boys were funny though… Clay ended up throwing his behind him into the bushes and Scott’s fish flew over the spawning shed and down the roe shed roof. Then we did the pairs chum toss… two people held the corners of a towel and had to throw the fish using that towel. Most pairs just ended up twisting the towel around the fish. Pretty funny stuff! Then we just stood around the fire all night, with Benji watching for bears. The next day was Adam’s birthday so we had a chocolate cheesecake feast. It turned out pretty good too for my first real cheesecake!


This is our nice firepit... it's a half of a metal bouy that is big enough to fit a pallet in. Angie made and cut the design in it, and I thought it looked pretty cool with fire.


Chum cookies...


Adam made this "bear eating salmon" cookie... with blood and everything...

I've never showed the babies at Hidden Falls yet... this is Lora, Steve's wife, with their 7 month old daughter Eliza. She's a pretty big baby!

These are Josh and Brandi's two little boys, Tytus (in the back - 2ish) and Leif (in the seat - 8 months old?).

The bear traffic the past few days has really picked up! Last night we saw 11 bears at the weir at one time. The bears are starting to pick on each other a bit too! Last night I watched a bear steal fish from another bear a few times! It was pretty daring of that bear too since he was stealing from a mom with a few cubs. But he did it a few times! There was some fighting too… mostly like “Get away from me and my fish!” fighting, but Adam saw two bears actually standing up and slapping each other around a few times. Apparently some bears are starting to walk around on site during the day now… the mom and triplets were today. We’ve decided it’s going to be pretty crazy here when the fish start to go away… that means I’m never leaving my house! :-) We just saw one on our side of the water when we came back from the bunkhouse and Adam shot it with a rubber bullet to scare it a bit, but it didn’t really seem fazed. There has been about 20 different bears around, according to one of the seasonal’s count. Lots of them mothers with cubs… We have 3 different mothers with two cubs, one with three, one with one and the rest are single bears. There are a few pretty big bears too… but we’ve also seen some pretty tiny ones for bears on their own. We’re just going to have to keep our eyes opened at all times.

Lately the weather has been CRAP! It has been really foggy, rainy and cold for the past few days but thankfully we have been doing inside work. We’ve been getting all the incubation stuff done. This year we got a bunch of those metal box incubators so we didn’t have to use the R48s but we still haven’t received them all. We’ve been setting up as many as possible though. They put in longer water systems so now instead of rows of 16, we have rows of 24. Incubation looks pretty packed.

I know you've all seen the eagles but I'm pretty proud of this picture! Now that's a good National Geographic shot!

This is a sockeye salmon aka a "red" salmon. It's just a stray salmon that got lost or something... we only saw one and didn't see any last year. Pretty cool looking though. That's what they look like when they are ready to spawn... big hump and the big hooked nose...

Well, this was a long one… I originally planned to NOT relive that day of picking up hundreds of king salmon from the raceways but it all just spilled out. I hope it all made sense.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Weekend for the Record Books

So I must start out with some Non-Hatchery business… as most you probably don’t know, this past weekend was the Drum Corps International finals in Indiana. My drum corps, Phantom Regiment, has an amazing show this year (so I’ve heard) so there were high expectations. They went into Quarterfinals performing in the 4th place position, but after scores, rose up to 3rd. Semifinals the next night, they got 2nd place. Well, Satuday was finals… AND THEY WON! By 0.025 points!! It was an amazing night for the corps and all the vets who have marched in that corps. When I heard, I had the most amazing feeling come over me and I couldn’t help but tear up with pride. So, I say SUTA to you, the 2008 DCI WORLD CHAMPIONS, THE PHANTOM REGIMENT!

Back to hatchery business... There is probably a week more of chum spawning. Last weekend, they even set a new daily egg take record of 9.6 million eggs! We average somewhere around 7 million to 8 million eggs a day though. A lot of King salmon are starting to come up the ladder, though, which means they are ready to go. However, we do them after chum so…. “YOU GUYS ARE TOO EARLY!”

OK so I wrote that the other day… due to the amount of king salmon coming up, we decided to start spawning them and continue doing the chum at the same time. King spawning usually only takes a few days so we’ll be done with them fairly soon. Chum however… they aren’t cooperating very much. We just started Takatz incubator #5 out of 19 and it almost seems like we are going to run out of fish like… SOON! So that could be a very big issue in the coming days.

Friday we had a few visitors that came to the hatchery… maybe you have heard of them. Umm…


It isn’t as exciting as it sounds really... There was a camera crew that set up at the weir that taped the salmon jumping up in the water coming out of the weir. We thought they were pretty lame actually. They didn’t even come to check out the spawning or anything… come on, that’s the coolest part! We talked to Angie a little later, who talked with the camera guys. Apparently, our salmon are going to be world famous! There is a movie that is going to be coming out, in theaters even, called Oceans in like 2010. So somehow, the footage of our fish is going to be in there. That’s pretty cool I guess but it would have made a cooler story to tell you guys if I was going to be in the National Geographic magazine or something!

Those are the camera guys being boring...

Friday we also had a funny bear experience. The other day, the boys had to go over to the creek across the lagoon and try to catch the fish that had made it over there past the lagoon barrier net. Well they got some and they were using this little boat, which is now tied up near the fish ladder. Well Friday morning, I was walking to work when I noticed a bear over near that boat. There must have been some delicious fish eggs in it because the bear climbed halfway into the boat and was licking it out. He kept looking up and around for people, but never saw us. We were far away though. Finally he ran away when Adam and Clay started to throw some rocks at it. Crazy bears!



The bears have been staying away lately, since there have been some fish over in that creek. I guess being in the creek is just farther away so they probably feel safer. Probably easier to catch over there too. So there hasn’t been much bear action lately, besides boat bear. Adam spotted some bears way across the cove today, a sow and 2 cubs, and he said they looked tiny. Using binoculars, we did see them and they were REALLY REALLY TINY! I hope they come around here so I can see them better. They looked puppy sized. They are definitely this year’s cubs and one’s we haven’t seen before. I thought the 2 cubs that we see around here all the time were this year’s because they are small too, but they must be last year’s.

Bear tracks at the beach... I thought they were pretty cool.

And they were fairly big. Actually this probably wasn't even a very big bear... My foot is big sooo.... This bear has the Moser feet!

OK this is a really random picture but I thought I'd show you what chum meat looks like right now. Good salmon meat is a really dark orangey "salmon" color. This is really light and pale. Adam was using this as bait.

Alright, due to the fact that I started writing all THAT up there a few days ago (except that spawning update I just wrote) and now it’s two days later, I’m not sure what else to write… Considering you probably won’t read this until TOMORROW or the next day…

This weekend is the spawning party, which should be fun. I’m going to make potato salad and my salmon cookies. OK before you get grossed out… they are just sugar cookies made with my brand new salmon shaped cookie cutters. I have bears too… not sure if I’ll use them this time. Adam is going to make his delightful smoked salmon dip. He went diving Sunday for some sea cucumbers so we could eat them at the party. We eat them as little strips of meat deep fried and they are pretty good. So he spent forever cleaning about 70 of those slimy buggers. I think we are also going to try to get another animal to roast… like a pig. Last year we had a lamb. Oh and Sunday is Adam’s birthday so I’m going to try my first attempt at making a cheesecake… a chocolate cheesecake.

Well, that’s all for now!

SHOUT OUT OF THE YEAR – This couldn’t go out to anyone else right now but the Phantom Regiment for making so many people around the world the proudest people IN THE WORLD! What you guys did this year was something for the record books! SUTA!

Oh and By the way, don’t bother asking what SUTA means… it’s a Phantom Regiment thing and I won’t tell. ;-)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Spawning Week 1

One week of spawning down.... uhhh HOW long to go!?

Spawning has been crawling by. The fish seem ready to go and there are alot in the ladder but... they don't want to come up into the raceways. So, instead of a full 8-hour day of spawning we are lucky to get 4 or 5 hours. Today, they got 5.1 million eggs and that is the highest we've gotten so far. Last year we had a 9 million day. Needless to say, it might take a little while if we don't get a full-days fish up in the raceway. But besides the fish, things are going well. The newbies have jumped into spawning with enthusiasm. I've been having a pretty good time, except my darn finger hurts. The same darn finger I hurt last year too... doing the same thing. A finger injury from bucking fish. Not an injury you hear very often!? :-D Anyhow, I just wrap some duct tape around it to immoblize it and I'm fine. I think it's just a strain on whatever muscle, tendon, ligament, something on the bottom part of my right pointer finger. On my left hand I have a few blisters that I noticed yesterday. Also from bucking I think but from where the spawning gloves rub on my hand in certain spots when I grab fish tails. Yesterday I worked the table sorting fish with Scott and, not gonna lie, I had a good time! It's fast paced... you are whacking things... I was even proud of myself to find a few partially popped out eyes on a few females. Creepy sounding, I know.

Today we had a bunch of tours walking around the hatchery. A big boat holding 100 people came and Scott, Adam, and Steve gave tours... 5 tours of 20 people each. We knew this boat was coming for a while though... I guess the company got some money for allowing these people to come in and check out the place. Scott said the cruise started in Japan and they visited Russia and I guess then came to Alaska... something like that. So I hung around the spawning shed for a while, talking to the spawners in between tours. Most of the tourists were older, 60s and 70s but there was a few in there 20s and a few in their teens. It was funny to see their reactions to what was going on and seeing the scenery. One lady was sort of standing back for a bit and then scooted closer to take a few pictures but when she moved back to the back, she was sorta making some faces like "eww gross." A few people asked me questions and things... the usual questions you get. "Do they feel pain?" What do you answer to that!? "How do you clean that stuff up!?" asking about the blood all over. Another lady walked up to me and was like "Alright, what the hell is going on up there!?" She was kind of funny, but seemed a little grossed out.

So what else is new? The bears... well... they seem to be off doing other things right now, despite what I said about them being crazy around here last week. We did have some fish that got past (or through) the barrier net in the lagoon, so I think the bears have been over there catching them. That's good though because otherwise we are just going to have to get them out when they are good and rotten in a few weeks. The weather the past few days has been really nice, and right now there is sun shining through the window as I write this. Hopefully it stays that way for a while. Earlier in the week, though, we had had alot of rain so the water in the lagoon was REALLY high and pouring over the concrete part of the weir. There was so much water pouring out of the opening in the weir, it looked like whitewater rapids! Especially at low tide.

I guess it's a little harder to see the water over the concrete in this picture but you can see it pouring down onto the rocks on the right side of the picture. And the tide isn't real low so the water doesn't look like it's raging.

The rest of my pictures I have are just the usual animal shot... Nothing real special.



Such a cute little guy!

OK so I guess this isn't a normal animal shot. We were eating lunch the other day and Adam looked out and said "Hey, a one legged sea gull!" So I snapped this picture, but I wondered if it really was, or if it was just on one leg. So I threw something at it to make it fly away and, boo... it had two legs.

Alright, well that's about all for me. Dad wins the award for the best blog comment from last blog when I was talking about all the different bears.

"Get yourself a paint ball gun and shoot the damn bears in the ass with a different color so that we really can know who all the characters in the bear stories are!"

HA I laughed at least. He wins the award for the longest email too! Anyhow, thanks for the emails back, in response to my "Neglected and Ignored" email that I sent to some of you. I was just bored and needed some stuff to read. Plus I wanted to make sure you guys read that blog. I know it's hard sometimes because I write sporadically. Would it help if I emailed you everytime I blogged?

Well, I guess that's about all.

SHOUT OUT OF THE DAY - Have fun in Brazil, Melissa! Also to you and Mike, Happy Anniversary!