Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Raisin' Fish: Getting Ready to Receive

I just got off the phone with Darren at the Issaquah Hatchery, one of the many fish hatcheries run by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. In cooperation with WSDFW and the Mid-Sound Fisheries Enhancement group I have been raising coho salmon in my front yard for the past 10 years. During that time I have incubated 630,000 coho salmon eggs.

I suppose a bit of explanation is in order.

I live on about 1.4 acres of land about a mile from Lake Washington in Lake Forest Park, Washington. McAleer Creek, which runs from Lake Ballinger to Lake Washington (perhaps 5 miles in all), runs right through my front yard. Back when my oldest daughter was in 6th grade, I met a local oncologist (father of one of Claire's classmates) who incubated wild salmon at his vacation house over in Hood Canal. He got me set up with the Mid-Sound folks who bought me the incubator once they saw the water supply I have all year round. Since that time I have been raising about 70,000 fish per year and releasing them into McAleer Creek. During that 10 years, there was only one year when I did not raise fish. That was the year I spent living and working in Mississippi (and that's a whole different story).

I have always liked raising fish and have had an acquarium whenever I could. While I was teaching school in Astoria, Oregon (1975-1988), I always dreamed of raising salmon in the classroom. Many of my students' parents where involved in fishing, so I wanted them to have an appreciation for the beauty and complexity of the whole process. I was never able to get anything set up during that time for a whole variety of reasons. A couple of years after we moved to Seattle, I stumbled on this opportunity and have been doing it ever since. Frankly, I love playing around in the water and this gives me a chance to do that and perhaps do my bit to enhance the viability of salmon in the Puget Sound basin.

So what's a fish incubator look like? It looks like a black plastic 55-gallon drum with some piping sticking into and out of it. Inside it there is space for trays to hold fish eggs and some plastic media that the young alevin can hide in (no worries, you are likely to read more about fish biology as we go along). I have a schematic drawing of one on one of my computers. I'll try to post it one of these days or draw a new one if I can't find it. Standing next to the incubator is another plastic drum (a bright blue one) that I use as a clarifier. The water flows into the clarifier at the bottom and then I take it out of the top of the clarifier and feed it into the bottom of the incubator. It flows up through the incubator and out the top via a pipe and screen arrangement. The water is fed into the clarifier via about 500 ft of 3" plastic pipe. The pipe leads far enough upstream that gravity makes sure that the water flows all year long.

With a setup like this, simplest is best. The fewer things there are to go wrong, the more likely it is that the fish will survive. If I were to use an electric pump to take water out of McAleer Creek, then I'd have to be sure that the pump would operate 24/7 for about 3 1/2 months during the winter. Unfortunately, that is the time when we have our most violent storms, and, because we live in a heavily wooded ravine, the power sometimes goes out when a tree falls across the lines. If I used a gas powered pump, in addition to the obnoxious noise, I'd also have to make sure that it never ran out of fuel for the entire time and that the motor would stand that kind of long term duty. So, I use a bunch more pipe, but gravity is fairly reliable (and significantly cheaper than electricity or gasoline to boot).

Because I will be playing host to 70,000 coho salmon eggs starting on Wednesday, December 10, I have to get the incubator up and running this weekend. Sometime during the summer the stream changed course slightly and left my inlet tube 500 feet upcreek dry. I'm going to have to get that fixed this weekend. While I'm at it, I'll take a bunch of pictures so that you can see what this is all about. I'll post them when I write up the maintenance/repair of the incubator sometime this weekend.

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About Me

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I'm currently 60 years old. I currently work as the learning management system specialist for American University of Madaba in Madaba, Jordan. I was originally certified as a high-school English teacher and taught school for 13 years (1 year of substituting, 1 year of 7th grade, 2 years of a combined 5th, 6th, 7th grade, 9 years of 8th grade). I've worked for hardware and software companies for the past 23 years doing training, training materials development, certification test development and other education related stuff. My wife and I have raised four children to adulthood; some of them live at home at the moment, but that won't last (they're too independent for that). We live at home with 2 Golden Retrievers, 2 black cats, a crazy cat, and, during the winter, 70,000 coho salmon.