The goals of my internship with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian
Reservation include gaining knowledge about the biology of salmon and the ecological
implications of their migration, getting experience with a fisheries organization
and learning about their scientific methods for obtaining data, and looking
at how future restoration projects can increase salmon survival rates. The specific
internship is trapping and tagging juvenile salmon migrating from the Walla
Walla River to the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. In this project I am
fortunate to work with people on a number of levels within the pacific coastal
salmon recovery project. Jesse Schwartz is my direct internship advisor and
he is the project leader. He works with funding, project design, and management
of the various monitoring efforts. I also work with Mike Lambert, the fisheries
biologist on the juvenile salmon project. Mike is the expert on salmon biology
and his knowledge most directly pertains to my interests and my area of study.
At the beginning of the internship I had one meeting with Jesse and one with
Mike where they each spoke about their job responsibilities and the inter-workings
of the project. At the time I didn’t know the direction of my internship
or much about the salmon project, so I had few questions to ask them.
Throughout the internship I spent my time working with the field crew collecting data and monitoring the traps. In conversations with Jesse and Mike, I did briefly get to broach the broader questions of the project on how the data is analyzed and what the implications of the data are for salmon survival. Doing field work, I have worked with three tribal members, Troy, Donna, and John, at the trap at Pierce’s RV Lot and Joe’s Bridge on the Walla Walla River. At first I found it hard to fit in with the crew, but it got more comfortable each time we worked together. A couple people on the field crew were new to the job and were learning along side the interns. This made it difficult to ask questions in the beginning because some crew members were just starting. Work at the two traps is aimed at maintaining the traps and collecting data about the fish caught. At each site I waded out with a net and bucket in hand to the trap, which is a large metal turbine with a holding area for the fish. I netted the fish out of the holding pen and put them in a bucket with river water. I cleaned debris out of the lower trap and took the hub number, which tracks the revolutions of the turbine. I also measured the cone speed and the water temperature. We would then drive the fish to a work trailer where they were placed in a container with a sedative (MS222). We then measured, weighed, and tagged the fish, taking the data on hard copy and the computer. We tagged both spring Chinook and summer Steelhead and took scales for DNA analysis of the Steelhead. After taking this data, we released the fish back in the river below the traps. Sometimes the fish were released above the traps and the percentage of tagged fish that were re-caught told us the percentage of fish we were catching out of the total juveniles in the area. Knowing this percentage allows the data to be extrapolated to the whole salmon population. In the first half of the semester, the data showed us that fish were migrating through the headwater trap on the Walla Walla River, but few fish had moved out of the system at the mainstream Walla Walla trap.
For the second half of the semester I continued my field work with the crew as peak emigration occurred in April. With an understanding of the process of collecting data with the rotary screw trap I was able to look at the implications of the data. During the peak flow times I learned a lot more about the hatchery programs versus the naturalized/wild fish. Most of the salmon in the Walla Walla are hatchery fish that are released by an endemic program or the Lyon’s ferry program from outside the system. The hatchery Chinook and steelhead are distinguished by a clipped adipose fin, clipped left ventral fin, or a green eye mark. I also had the opportunity to visit the Merwin trap, which is used to study the adult migration of salmon upstream to spawn. This was a very exciting day because I got to see the other side of our juvenile research and net some enormous fish.
The goal of my internship was to learn as much as possible from the CTUIR project and working with people on multiple levels was very useful. I learned how to check the rotary screw trap and take down the necessary data for the fish in the trap. I came away from this internship with an understanding of the day-to-day data collection for the juvenile project and more importantly gained hands on experience with the data collection. Because the main goal of this internship was to observe and learn about the CTUIR program, the biggest challenge was not having any tangible product to work towards. I was a part of a project much bigger than work I was doing, which meant I rarely saw the result of my labor. I often found myself tagging along with the crew rather than doing useful work myself. There is so much to learn about CTUIR, the juvenile research, and their other salmon projects that I always found this internship challenging and interesting. I just recommend that future interns be aware that they are coming onto a long-term project, that they are there to absorb as much as possible from the CTUIR crew, and that they cannot individually add much or accomplish much for the project. I recommend that the next intern do as much research as possible about the juvenile project and look at past years’ data, in order to have more pointed questions to ask. Overall, it was a great experience for me to work with a fisheries organization and gain a background on salmon issues. I enjoyed working with the CTUIR because I felt an appreciation for their cultural heritage and how that is connected to salmon recovery. The CTUIR salmon research project is something I would like to be involved with in the future, either as a summer job or a job after college.