Mike and the more experienced crew members I have met, Jeff, Virgil and Donna, are all very knowledgeable about salmon and rivers. The newer members of the crew seemed like they were still getting the hang of all the procedures, but everyone was a lot of fun to work with. The whole process of trapping, processing and tagging fish seems to be well planned and practiced. Before my third morning at the trap, the fish crew constructed a covered work table on the river bank where the fish would be processed. As an alternative to carrying the fish all the way up the river bank to a trailer, the work table considerably shortens the out of river time for all the fish.
I was eager to work part of a night shift as the outmigration started to heat up, but during the next week we received a lot of precipitation, raising the flow in the Walla Walla to a point where trap operations had to be suspended. Night shifts are most exciting time to work because night is when the most salmonids travel down river. The following week I drove out to the trap one morning to meet the crew, but the flow was still too high and there was a lot of debris in the river so the trap still wasn’t running. We spent the morning repairing equipment that had been damaged by the high flows, then Donna took some time to show everyone present how to properly enter tagging data into the computer. In mid April I finally had the opportunity to work a night shift at the trap, the best experience of my internship. I met John and Virgil at the trap around 10:30pm. First we retrieved the wild Chinook that had been captured and tagged the night before from a holding net in the river. Tagged wild Chinook are held for the day to ensure that they have time to recover from the tagging process. We took these fish upriver and released them with the intent of using recatch numbers to determine what percentage of fish in the river actually make it into the trap. After releasing the Chinook we undertook the normal procedures of netting the fish in the trap livewell, identifying and then sorting them. This time I actually got on the trap and netted the fish into buckets. Next I kept track of numbers of species on a counter while John and Virgil identified and sorted all the fish. Wild Chinook and a few hatchery Chinook were kept for tagging; the rest are released immediately. Once we cleaned out the livewell and counted all the fish, over three hundred, I left for home while John and Virgil took a break to allow the trap time to collect more fish. The next week I again participated in a night shift, this time with Jeff, Donna and Mathew. The experience was similar except that I was allowed to identify and sort fish we retrieved from the trap. By this point my fish identification skills had improved considerably from the beginning of the semester; I was confident in almost all my IDs.
After considering my experiences with the CTUIR fisheries crew I can
definitely say that the internship was a success. While the internship took
a long time to get off the ground, once it did most aspects went well. The time
I spent at the screw trap was informative and enjoyable. I learned about salmon,
the ecology of the river, and the working of the CTUIR Fisheries and Wildlife
Department. From the crew I worked with I learned about tribal perspectives
on salmon and other environmental issues. The two night shifts were the best
parts of the internship since that was when I did the most hands on work. I
definitely recommend this position for future interns along with two suggestions.
In order for the intern to have the fullest experience possible, the internship
needs to start sooner, not a third of the way into the semester. To expedite
the process, it might help to bring the biologists such as Mike, Brian and Travis
to the initial meeting with Jesse since these are the people that the interns
will be working with. One problem that might come up with starting the internship
sooner is that the fish don’t begin emigrating in any substantial numbers
until the end of the semester. So, perhaps the intern could work on a different
project(s) until the fish run picks up. Also, make sure to make it very clear
that the intern needs to work hard to stay in touch with their intern contact.
My contact, Mike was always very busy and sometimes difficult to get hold of.
But, since I was very persistent, sometimes calling or emailing repeatedly,
we always managed to contact each other when it was necessary.