Kenai River Salmon Counting

Releasing a huge chinook salmon on the kenai river
Releasing a huge chinook salmon on the kenai river

One of the things that I’m doing as an aspiring biologist/wildlife manager is working for ADF&G as a technician to survey fish migrating up the Kenai River. Each summer, we take length as METF (mid eye to tail fork), species from sockeye, and additionally we take scales, and genetic samples from chinook salmon.

There are several benefits to doing this kind of survey. Firstly, it serves to corroborate the sonar data and ensure its accuracy, secondly, it gives access to information that the sonar can’t measure, such as fish age, genetics, and sex. Also, the genetic samples are being used to generate a genetic profile for the river’s fish while the age is used for a number of things that can help predict future runs.

This information will ultimately be used to manage the fisheries in the Kenai and surrounding waters to ensure that the populations of salmon remain vibrant and healthy, while still allowing for a robust fishery. The data generated will also be usable for predicting aspects of future salmon runs. The conditions of the salmon run are dynamic, which require responsive regulation using in part the information this project provides.

Day to Day

My days would start at 5AM to give myself just enough time to make a coffee and pack a lunch. I arrive at the office around 6AM to meet up with my partner for the day. We start by grabbing the computer from the office, and then we drive away in the truck with the boat. After filling up with gas, we drive to Pillars boat launch, arriving around 6:30AM. We launch the boat and arrive at our netting site on the lower Kenai by 7AM, which is when we cast the first drift net.

We have two nets; a deep and shallow at 15ft and 30ft deep respectively. Each net also has two panels of 5in mesh and 7in mesh. We start on one side of the river, with a specific depth net, and a specific mesh nearest to the river edge. We then rotate the net, side of the river, and mesh that we cast out in a pattern to give even coverage of the river, and even usage of each net. (It’s a complicated pattern).

When we pick the fish, we either get sockeye, coho, pinks, or kings, with the occasional flounder, dolly, or hooligan. The length of the sockeye have to be recorded, and during the initial part of the summer, a genetic sample needed to be taken from their axillary process under their pelvic fins.

When we catch a king salmon, it’s usually a big ordeal since they are large powerful fish that like to slap fisheries technicians in the face when we try to touch them. We have to put a tail tie around them and tether them to the side of the boat until the whole net is pulled in and all the sockeye have been released. We then maneuver the kings into a cradle where we measure them, take note of the sex, take a scale sample, a fin sample for genetics, and then send them on their way.

We take a 30min break around 10AM, and continue on until 1PM, when we drive the boat back to the launch. When we get back to the office, we download the data from the portable computer, put the truck/boat away, and get everything set to do it all over again the next day.

Feel free to watch the video where I show exactly what this work involves in the day-to-day routine.

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