August 2, 2017 – There was only one thing on the agenda today, work. And work hard.
There are four creeks that the facility takes and releases chum to: Snootli Creek, Thorsen Creek, Saloompt Creek, and Fish Creek at the Airport Channel. Each has a fence installed at this time of year, the fence traps the returning adults between to pole weirs and the crew sorts the incoming spawners into holding pens by sex, twice a day. In the morning the crew sorts the fish in between the two weirs into the holding pens, and then sorts through the holding pen for ripe females and kills, bleeds, and sstrips the eggs into buckets.
After the females are finished, enough males are sorted, killed, and stripped of milt to fertilize the number of females taken.
At night a smaller crew returns to each of the traps to sort again.
It is physical work and is jokingly referred to among hatcheries as the “Fisheries Fitness Program”.
There are two crews of 8 – 12 members each, sometimes more if volunteers and/or kids from the SEEDS program attend. The crew I was on today had two youths from SEEDS and a young guy visiting the Valley from Germany and who had dropped by asking to volunteer. No problem, everyone will be put to work.
Although yesterday was a clear sky at this end of the valley, today was significantly different. The sky came up a blood red colour as it filtered through thick smoke that had been swept in overnight. The normally scenic mountains had all but disappeared, and by late afternoon one would never know they existed at all.
I jumped on the Fish Creek / Airport Channel crew for the morning and remembered how physical this work is. Pitching carcasses over the downstream fence, hauling and hanging ripe females, holding females for stripping. My shoulders aren’t what they used to be and it’s a solid workout for them.
I did have one small mishap. The fish are hung by their tails to bleed to reduce the potential for blood in the eggs. At this site the fish are impaled on long sharpened spikes that protrude through a long 2 x 4. I have a healthy respect for those spikes and one very quickly defines the safe zone, and doesn’t bend over near them lest one impale one’s forehead. Once the last of the fish were processed, the panel of spikes was turned upside down for safety, and of all times, that’s when I got myself. I turned and my hand came up underneath them, and I laid a long gash down the inside of the next-to-pinkie finger. There was that moment of “Is that fish blood….or my blood…?”. I rinsed my hand in the water and saw the blood streaming out of my hand….”My blood”. And then looked around and thought…. “Lesser of two evils….don’t rinse it and leave rust and fish blood and tissue and everything that came with that in my hand…..or rinse it in water filled with filthy chum carcasses.” Neither was a very good choice, but the river followed by a clean paper towel seemed the better bet until I could clean it properly back at the hatchery.
Back at the hatchery someone was hunting for Dettol or another antiseptic for me, without success. I asked if they had any Ovadine, an iodine based compound we dilute and use for disinfecting eggs, and a light bulb went on for him. He pulled a bottle out from under the sink and poured a healthy slug into a container, diluted it with a bit of water, and I soaked my hand in it for 20 minutes or so, looking like I had acquired jaundice in my hand when I finally rinsed it off. I grabbed a few nitrile gloves, pulled one on to protect my hand from further fish uck, and stuffed a few more into my pocket.
Good to go!
Off to Thorsen Creek for the afternoon for more of the same.
While waiting for the male fish to be stripped a young woman – Tyra – asked if my little camera was waterproof and when I said yes, she asked if she could try it out. Of course! We wandered up the river and she took a number of shots of logs, rocks, fish, and other things before we went back to the crew to help with the next round of hanging females. Karl disappeared for a bit and when he came back he had a bag filled with styrofoam cups containing frozen fruit juice – homemade popsicles his wife had sent him back with. So refreshing on a scorching day. A short while later a pair of Guardians stopped by, one with a young woman carrying a tray of raisin tarts for the crew. Its hard to go hungry around this place.
Eventually it was time to pack up and head back to the hatchery to fertilize and plant the eggs into the incubators, but it was another great day handling fish.
I went out for dinner with the manager and his wife, and ended up back at their home when she invited me back for a glass of wine and he went back to the trap for another sort at 7pm. I stayed a while and we chatted, and then I drove back down to the fence for awhile until they finished up. John had brought his crazy little American lab along and poor Scout simply couldn’t believe that, with all the fish being thrown over the fence, nothing was being thrown for her! I have a hunch that she might not be invited back.
The evening sun cast a golden glow on everything and the shadows took on a tone that warmed the gloom.
Nothing but fish today, but that’s what I came here for.