Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla:
Monitoring Chinook Salmon and Steelhead Migration
I have had a limited number of opportunities to work with the fish biologists of the Confederated Tribes, but the times I’ve been able to have been valuable. Each meeting has given me some knowledge and skill that I could be able to apply to a job or certain situation in the future. Although I have only been able to meet several times, my goals are being met. I have gained strong insights into the workings of a fisheries program and can now better understand their purpose and goals as an organization. My specific tasks have changed slightly to adjust to our schedules as well as the schedules of the fish themselves.
I worked on the Radio Telemetry project, whose purpose was to track the distribution of steelhead in the complex water system that is the Walla Walla River Basin. The biologists of the CTUIR want to observe steelhead movements so that they will be able to prioritize habitat improvements, asses the feasibility of fish passage at certain locations, address water management issues, and flow regulation. I primarily downloaded data from 8 monitoring stations located along the Walla Walla River, Touchet River, and Mill Creek. Data collection consisted of attaching a handheld computer to the site’s monitoring system to download data, as well as maintaining its power supply, and repairing any damage due to high water or vandalism. Those stations located at dams used receiving cables that were suspended in the water and were often damaged and had to be replaced. The importance of data collection was apparent to me immediately. By working with Travis Olsen, it took just a short time to see the amount of data they collect from numerous sites and appreciate the effort they put into their work to come to appropriate conclusions. This data was the most critical component of their reports that will be used to recommend improvements or removal of impediments to fish passage.
A Merwin Trap has been set up just above the mouth of the Walla Walla River where it meets the Columbia. It was set up early this year to ensure it would capture the beginning of the Spring Chinook migration. This net system is used to get a rough estimate of the number of Chinook migrating out of the Walla Walla. We counted the number of other fish to get an idea of their numbers as well. The species captured in the net were smallmouth bass, channel catfish, crappie, carp, and suckers. On the second trip out in early May, we found the first salmonid of the year, a female steelhead that had just spawned and was returning to the ocean. It was a good experience to handle all the different species of fish and get a good idea of the work it must require when there are hundreds in the net. It can be fun but also must be stressful because of the sheer volume of fish, and the need to get them out without doing harm. The repetition of tasks is evident and to be expected in this field. Even in the downtime between salmon/steelhead runs, there are multiple ongoing tasks like antenna repair, net repair, data collecting, and presentation preparation. In addition to these specific field work skills I’ve gained other valuable information.
My conversations with Travis Olsen have yielded some helpful information regarding work in fisheries. His background was forestry, yet happened by chance to get involved with CTUIR. It merely took a scientific background to become a fisheries biologist and he has not regretted the change. It is good to see that a degree can lead you in exciting and unexpected directions. It was surprising and a relief to hear that politics don’t often interfere directly with their work. Although squabbles do occur, most landowner, farmers, and fisherman are happy to see these scientists actively working to restore fish populations and agree to let them pass through their land if need be. These community members appreciate the effort to restore the fish for sport and cultural purposes, and the positive effect it will have on the ecosystem. In conjunction with this project, efforts are being made to restore habitat along the rivers and balance needs between irrigation and water flow for fish. The Walla Walla Watershed conference made this clear. CTUIR biologists presented their work here, along with numerous other experts from the Department of Energy to the USGS. Better water management will leave all parties content, the fisheries and farmers included. It was encouraging to see a community forum that involved people from many different disciplines and interests that were working together for a common cause.
This internship has been interesting and fun for me too because of
my longtime interest in fishing and ecology. So, making time for it and committing
four or more hours every week has been easy. However, our number of meetings
has been cut short. The CTUIR interns were not contacted for several weeks,
and I was not contacted by the biologists for a couple weeks after that. Valuable
weeks were wasted in the beginning of the semester that could have been used
productively. By the time we got started, spring break was upon us and two weeks
quickly disappeared. Half of the semester was gone and we had only met a few
times. In the future, I would recommend to others to make sure to get as early
of a start as possible because each experience, although there have been few,
has been valuable. It would also be to their advantage to develop a routine
earlier rather than later. Much of the time spent for the internship is driving
to and from monitoring stations or traps. This can’t be avoided but it
would be more helpful to stay and work at fewer locations. But, this does provide
time to talk about the job and discuss any issues or questions that arise, which
I definitely recommend others to make time for. This internship might be better
suited for the summer when salmon and steelhead begin the journey up river so
that there is more for the intern to do because there was little activity along
the river in late winter and early spring. I would recommend that the intern
discuss the tasks they will perform before the internship begins to make sure
that the experience will be as desired.