NOAA Live! Alaska Webinar 83 – What do you know about Alaska salmon?

– Welcome to NOAA Live Alaska. My name is Lisa Hiruki-Raring, and I'm going to be
moderating today's webinar. This series is a collaborative
effort by NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Fishery Science
Center, where I work, NOAA's Alaska Regional
Collaboration Network, and NOAA's National Weather Service. This webinars series
is designed to help you get to know NOAA's work in Alaska and how we connect and
work with your communities. NOAA, the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration studies the ocean and the
atmosphere and where the two meet, from weather, to ocean, to the
animals that live around us. All of our speakers work
for some part of NOAA or work in partnership with NOAA. We hope this gives you a sneak peek at different career paths
you might be interested in. Today, we're introducing you
to Joshua Russell who works for NOAA Fisheries Alaska
Fishery Science Center in Juneau, Alaska. While we'll be talking about
NOAA's role in research and stewardship, we want to
recognize that we're all coming to you from the traditional
lens of native communities who have substantial indigenous knowledge and much to share with us.

In Alaska, Josh's work
is conducted throughout Southeast Alaska which includes
the traditional homelands and waters of the Alutiit, Sugpiaq, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. We are honored to acknowledge
that that Josh is presenting from Juneau, Alaska, the
ancestral land of the Tlingit who have stewarded this
land for thousands of years. Community thrives thanks
to their continued sharing of vision, wisdom, values and leadership. We would also like to
acknowledge that we're hosting this webinar from the traditional
lens of the first people of Seattle, the Duwamish
people past and present. A few guidelines before I hand
you over to our presenter. You're all muted because we
have a lot of people on the line and we want to make sure
everyone can hear our speaker. However, there's a box where
you can write questions and we encourage you to ask
questions as we go along. My colleague, Chris Baier
and I will be keeping track of questions for Josh behind the scenes. We'll stop every now and again
and answer a few questions.

We might not get to all of
our questions but we'll try to answer as many as we can. All right, I'll hand it over
to Josh to introduce himself. – Thank you, Lisa, I appreciate that. My name is Joshua Russell,
I'm a fisheries biologist with NOAA Fisheries at the
Alaska Fishery Science Center. I am based in Juneau. I've been working for NOAA
at different capacities for about the last eight years
but I've been a full-time employee with them for this last year. And today I want to talk
to you guys a little bit about to see what you guys
know about Alaska salmon, maybe I can teach you a few
things and then to explore what the job of a salmon
biologist is, what what I do, how I got to where I
am and what the future looks like for me. To jump right in, today's
topics I want to break into four sections, in
between each section will be a chance for
questions from you guys.

I was told this talk was
for mainly elementary age and middle school kids
so I'll try to tailor it towards that level. First subject is how I
became a fish biologist. What led me to this path
that I'm on, how I got here, schooling, things like that,
then we'll take some time to talk about salmon life
cycle, the different key things that are important about
salmon, what's unique about them and what their different
seven life stages look like. We'll jump into what is a
weir, if you're not familiar with that, what it
does, what it's used for and I work at a weir on
a daily basis so we'll go a little bit into what
my daily life is like and what I do as a biologist. And then we'll finish up with a little bit about Alaska salmon
management and stewardship, focusing on those who are
potentially in Alaska, things that you can do and
those are the Pacific Northwest as well to help be more knowledgeable about salmon management
and to be good stewards of that resource.

Jumping right in, I want to
talk to you about how I became a fisheries biologist, what
led from the picture you see on the right, which was me
with my first salmon catch in Alaska way back when, to
the picture now on the left which is me before work,
after work, whenever I get a free chance going out
fishing, exploring the passion that I have for fisheries. The first thing that
completely changed my path was a completely random
experience that I had in Utqiagvik or what is formerly known
as Barrow which is a city that is as far North in the
state of Alaska as you can go.

I was living there at the
time due to my dad's work. I was in middle school and
the native peoples up there have the ability to harvest bowhead whales for subsistence use. So they'd harvest whales and
then use that meat for food over the winter or the
summer for the culture. And I was offered the
opportunity to go out and see what a harvest looked like. As a kid in middle school, that
was something completely new and foreign to me so I
jumped at the opportunity. And at the time for me,
my dad was an engineer, I was pretty good at math
so I thought engineering was the path for me, but little did I know this was going to completely change that. So I got to go out and experience
what the harvest looked like, seeing all the traditional
methods that they use for harvest that have been
handed down for thousands of years and got to
experience all the different butchering techniques
and things like that.

But then what really
interested me was I said that if I wanted to see something
cool, I could come back the next day and I could see
polar bears and Arctic foxes feeding on the leftover little remains. And as a middle school kid,
the thought of seeing more polar bears was super
interesting to me so I jumped at the chance and my
family went back out there the next day. But instead of the polar bears
or foxes, what instead I saw was someone standing on
top of a whale carcass with a chainsaw. That completely threw me
off guard and it turned out that it was actually a whale
biologist, a quite famous one, and he was taking samples.

So little old me who had
no idea what was going on, smiled, just took the time
and started showing me different parts of the whale
of this is brain tissue, this is reproductive
organ, this is stomach, and it completely blew my mind
and changed my perspective, almost that instant. And from that point on, I
was very much interested in marine biology and that
was the career path I wanted to pursue and I wanted to
be a biologist for NOAA was my now kid dream of my career. And that actually started me
down the path to where I am now working as a biologist for NOAA. Throughout high school, I
then started doing a bunch of any biology classes
I could get my hand on, anything marine biology
related and that all led to actually an excellent
internship opportunity that I had with the Alaska Native Science
and Engineering Program. They were able to get me
an internship with NOAA at the Auke Creek weir,
straight out of high school, right before I started my
freshman year of college.

For those of you that are interested, the Alaska Native Science
and Engineering Program is for, or ANSEP, is
for students all the way from elementary school through high school and it's designed to
foster students' interests in science, technology,
engineering, and math. So if you have any interest
in those, highly suggest, they're going to have the
program that got me to where I am today so they're there
to help people in Alaska if you're from here. But then I got to go through
this internship opportunity and that's where my focus fully
shifted from marine biology more directed down into fisheries. And I've actually been
able to work at Auke Creek since that internship. So it's a passion that
led to an internship that actually led to a career. What of course followed to
achieve that was a lot of school. That's just kind of something that you're going to have to go through. I wasn't the best of
student, middle school, high school era, there
was a lot of classes that I necessarily wasn't interested in.

But I found that once I got
to college and I was able to take classes that were
really interesting to me and directly focused on what
I wanted to learn about, college years flew by for
me and I ended up getting a bachelor's of science and marine biology followed by a master's in
fisheries that I just graduated with from CFOS couple of years ago. So school it's just something
that you're going to have to go through but it's definitely worth it. And what really focused for my career path was having excellent mentors. Here in this picture you can
see two of, my current boss and my previous boss and I
learned so much from them on a daily basis and I'm
still learning from them. As well as so many excellent
mentors that helped me along the way with teachers
and everything that possibly helped me get to where I am. So I highly recommend pay
attention to your teachers, listen to them, and they
know a lot more than you do and find yourself a good
mentor who is interested in getting you to where you want.

Because I know for me, now
that I'm actually in my career, I've take any opportunity like
this to try to talk to kids who are coming up trying to
figure out what they want do because all of us scientists are, we're passionate about
what we do and we're always wanting to share, we want to help people. So there's no shortage of
people who want to help mentor you try to get to where you
want to be in your career. With that, we'll take a
quick break for questions. – [Lisa] Okay, sounds good, Josh. Thanks for all that
background on your work. I do have a question of
what is the biggest fish that you've ever caught,
because I see there in your question's picture
there is a huge salmon, I think it is, and so
we did get the question, what's the biggest fish you've ever caught since you're so interested in fishing.

– Biggest fish I ever
caught was it was a 36 inch King salmon which is almost
just slightly bigger than that picture there which is a
fish that we got at the weir. But I caught a 36 inch, so
I've just had three foot King salmon, which is
probably about as tall as some of you elementary
middle-schoolers. – [Lisa] That's pretty cool. We do have some classrooms online here. We've got Mrs. Hemphill's
fourth grade class from Eagle River and we've got a class from Lake Creek High School as well. As well as Susan Smith's elementary class into Continental Alaska. We do have a couple of other questions. Jayden was wondering
what's the rarest fish you've ever caught.

– Oh, maybe it's just the rarest for me but it was the picture you
saw when I first started the presentation of me
fly fishing and it was, it's a small fish but it
was a saltwater cutthroat which if you're in Juneau,
those are hard to find. And I got really lucky it was
actually one of my first times out fly fishing, I think
it was beginner's luck but managed to catch one
but some people spend years trying to catch one here. – [Lisa] That's really cool. Carol had also wanted,
was wondering again, whether you could say again
how much that, how heavy that fish was that you caught,
and also whether the fish that in the picture has teeth. – Fish weighed about, I believe
it was just over 20 pounds or so, so a lot of big
fish and a lot of meat. And yes, the picture here,
you can see that these fish, it's actually really interesting,
we don't entirely know how they develop their teeth
or the purpose for them to a point but when they're
returning to fresh water to spawn, they do, the males
and some of the females produce these large teeth, almost
similar to canine teeth and then they have little
rows but they don't actually use them for any sort of
feeding, it's more for protection or for fighting off males
for better mate selection.

– [Lisa] Cool, Laura
also had wanted to know what is your favorite part of your job? – Favorite part of my job,
which I'll probably get into a little bit more
is that I get to work at the Auke Creek weir which
is a full NOAA field site but it's actually located in Juneau. So I get to be out in the
field every single day, February through November,
but sometimes weir doesn't take all day and
then I can go to the lab.

So my job is a perfect blend
of I can be in the field every day but then I
can go out to the lab, I can do analysis, I can do research, and I can sleep in my bed every night. So it's almost like a
biologists dream set up for me and that's the thing I love most about it. – [Lisa] Very cool, and Laura had wondered what was your first job
after graduate school? And you had mentioned that
you went from an internship into a job at the Auke Bay
lab and we were wondering whether that was directly there, whether you did anything in between. – It was actually direct. So my kind of path was,
I started my summer before my freshman year of college. I got to work as an Auke Creek intern. Then all through college every summer I worked there as an intern. Then through grad school,
I started working full-time as a NOAA independent contractor. So I wasn't a full employee
but I was working for them still full time. And then once I had my
master's and had the proper qualifications, my first job was hired as a fisheries biologist
for the Auke Creek weir.

So my entire career path that
internship directly led me to my first job out of grad school. – [Lisa] That's cool. And that also means that all
of the years of experience that you put in as an intern
and as a contractor contributed to your knowledge of working
at the law at the weir there. – Absolutely, I ended up being
a fresh master's graduate with seven years of experience in my field which helps tremendously
for that job hiring process. – [Lisa] That's great. So Tavi who's in third grade wants to know if the salmon in the
photo is a dog salmon. – Close, it's a King salmon actually. But they're, this is a very,
as you can probably tell very aged up King salmon so they get kind of hard to distinguish. – [Lisa] Great, and then
last question before we get into your next section is
that Laura was wondering what's your favorite fish? I think I can guess but I'm
going to let you answer that.

– Actually, I don't have a picture of me with my favorite fish but my
favorite fish is the coho. Mainly because I've done
a lot of work on them. They're also my favorite
to fish for and I think that the best tasting, so
definitely go with salmon. – [Lisa] Great, well, let's
get into your next section 'cause I know that you have a lot to share with our viewers here. – Fantastic, so my next section,
I want to talk to you guys a bit about the life cycle on a salmon.

So we're going to go through
what the seven main life stages are, where they're
currently at geographically in that life stage. But before we get into that,
there's a couple of key things that I want you to try
to remember about salmon. One is the word anadromous
which is basically a really fancy word that
scientists have for saying that a fish starts its
life cycle in freshwater, migrates to salt water can mature and then it comes back
to freshwater to spawn. So anadromous just means that at the cycle freshwater, saltwater, freshwater. And one thing that's also
important to realize about salmon or what I'm going to be talking
about today are Pacific salmon is that they only do this once. So they migrate as a
juvenile out of freshwater, return saltwater, come
back to fresh to spawn and then they die. There's other species
of salmon for example the Atlantic salmon that
can do this multiple times but we're going to focus
today just on Pacific salmon and for the specific life
cycle more on coho salmon 'cause it's a little more simplistic.

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So keep in mind that while
we're talking about coho salmon life cycle, all the five different species of Pacific Northwest salmon
have slight different changes, some can be in freshwater
longer or different but focus on coho today
'cause it's easier to do. And the last important thing
is to remember that salmon, even though they go
through this whole process and they're migrating from
their stream where they grew up, out to the Gulf of Alaska,
all around BC, Western Alaska and then back, they always
return to their same stream which is still to me as a
biologist, I mean, I've known this for years but it's
still mind-boggling to me that they can do that. And scientists still actually,
we have kind of an idea of how they can migrate
back to their main stream but we still don't fully understand it and it's still kind of a mystery to us.

So that's one of the things that, so those are the three main
things I guess I want you to remember, anadromous,
that they only do it once and they can always
return to the same stream. But to jump in, the first
stage of the life cycle is when the salmon are as an egg. So as I go through to these life cycles, there's going to be a map on
the left side of the screen. You can see here, we have
the greater Alaska area, we have more blown up of
just Southeast Alaska, so this region down here, and
then we have the watershed where I work at which
is Auke Lake watershed. So we have Lake Creek which
feeds Auke Lake which then flows downstream through Auke Creek
pass the weir where I work, down to Auke Bay which is the saltwater. So that kind of helps you get
an idea and there'll be a star that moves around showing
you where each stage of this life cycle is taking place.

So for eggs, their entire
lives, part of this life cycle is happening in the gravel
and what are called redds. And this picture down here,
you can see this discoloration in the gravel, and that is a
salmon redd that has been dug by female or just basically a nest. So they'll use their bellies
to dig into the gravel and the lay anywhere
between a 1000 to 3000 eggs depending on the species. And this redd can protect the
salmon, so the water will flow instead of just laying
on top of the gravel, it's kind of compressed
so water will float over. That way the eggs don't
get blown out of the water and get moved around that
can kind of stay there and stay protected and get
nestled into the gravel. They can stay in this stage as an egg where they're slowly maturing from around November, December up
until February or March, so it can be four months or so that they're in
this egg stage developing.

The next stage after
this is what is called an alevin life stage. Again, this is still in the same spot in weir for Lake Creek
or upper feeding streams. And this is what an alevin looks like. It looks like, you can kind of
see that it looks a little bit like a salmon but it still
has its yolk sac attached. So it's still, it's not feeding on its own and it's not strong enough to swim. So it's currently still down
in the same gravel of the redd and it is focused on absorbing
that yolk sac to feed and get itself stronger
so that it can swim. After this life stage, it moves
on to what is called a fry.

And this is where it starts to
look most like a baby salmon. It's able to fully swim on
its own and as you'll notice that yolk sac is gone
and they've now moved, they've started moving
around a little bit. So these fry will come out of the gravel and they'll start moving into what we call protected areas basically. So there'll be in woody debris
on the sides of the creeks, behind big rocks where,
because they're not super big and they're not strong
swimmers, they will hide behind like a rock, dart out
and grab a piece of food and come back and hide. And they'll spend a bit of
their life cycle like this where they're just
opportunistically trying to get whatever food is available to them so that they can get bigger and stronger. And this change from egg to alevin to fry can happen over about a
month to two-month period. From this stage, they move
on to what is called a parr. And a part is where salmon juveniles spend most of their life stage.

And for coho, that can be
anywhere between one to two years. Don't ask me why they go
anywhere but they can migrate at one year or two years
old, we still don't know, but they spend that time as a parr. They develop what are called,
and where they get their name these football or oval shaped
markings called parr markings and coho get some of their
more distinguishing features at this time which are the white
leading edge on their fins. And the more brownish, redy
red fin color that helps us identify them as coho. And now they've moved out of
these Lake Creek protected environments and the Auke
Lake and they've entered the full water column of Auke Lake.

So they're moving up and
down in the water column, feeding depending on day and night cycles, growing bigger, stronger
and they're spending that one to two-year period
here trying to get bigger. After they spend that
one to two-year period, they then turn into
what is called a smolt. As you can see, the main
difference between a parr and a smolt is they
get a little bit bigger because they've had that
one or two years to grow and then their scale color changes. So here a little more so gray
whereas previously you can see the full color of the fish. What that is is it's
worth they get their name is they've gone through a
process called smoltification. Which this basically means
that they've matured as much as they can in fresh water
and they're ready to go to salt water but their body has to go through a lot of different changes. So they're going from living
in just freshwater to saltwater which requires complete change with a lot of their body chemistry
and things like that.

And one of the things that
happens from that process is that their scales get this silvery
color which is basically the scales thickening and
hardening to protect themselves from the harsher marine
environment as well as they start getting a mucus layer
that covers themselves to help protect them. When they're in this small
stage, they will migrate out of Auke Lake where they spent that one to two-year period. Down Auke Creek where we'll
do a little bit of sampling with them for science work at
the weir and then they migrate into what we call the
near shore environment.

So they're in, what we refer to in Alaska is the inside passage, and
they'll stay in this nearshore environment for a month or
so where they start getting access to a lot better food resources that they didn't have in freshwater. So at this stage in their life cycle these fish are about three or four inches. So maybe, for those of you
in school about the size of your palm, for me
it's a little smaller. They'll go from that to a full size adult, so two, two and a half
feet in about six months.

So they're going from
something this to this in a very short amount of time. So they're getting,
they're eating constantly, putting on as much weight,
as much size as they can because that helps them better survive. So they, like I said,
they go from this to this in that short amount of time. And these are what most people
would recognize as a full coho salmon or silver, large, bright, super damn bright silver
and these are found out here in the Gulf of Alaska.

So these fish will move
out of the inside passage or the near shore environment
to the full Gulf of Alaska. They'll do one big
circuit on their way back. This is the point in their
life cycle where they are most vulnerable to all the
different methods of commercial fishery harvest which we'll
go into a little bit more. This is also where they're
most susceptible to predators. So be it humans and be it other
animals, they're actually, they're running a gauntlet
trying to get back.

Once they decide to start
that process coming back, we refer to them as a spawning adult, which is what you can see here. And just like when they got
those silvery scales going from a parr to a smolt,
now when they're going from done adults to a spawning
adult, they start developing this deep red color, almost a green back and they develop that
kype that you see here, so it's just a hooked nose and mouth, and they also started developing
more pronounced teeth, like we saw in that King salmon. And these fish have come
back from the Gulf of Alaska. They've migrated through Auke Creek weir which is where we'll do
processing and sampling, and then they try to get
basically as far up Lake Creek as they can to lay
their eggs and they die.

So, and then the process
starts all over again. So this whole process from
laying their eggs to growing up, migrating all the way
throughout the Gulf of Alaska wherever to Western Alaska
and back can be anywhere between three to four years. So they've been on quite a journey and it's still mind-boggling
to me how they can do this and how they're so efficient at it and it's one of the things
that's great about salmon. Any questions? – [Lisa] Okay, well, that
was really fascinating to see the changes in the stages
of the salmon as they grow. We did have a couple of questions. Carol was wondering after
laying eggs in November and December, does the Lake
Creek freeze for the winter and how does that weather affect the eggs? – Lake Creek can freeze
and there are definitely a lot of salmon streams where
they completely freeze over.

But one of the great things
about that is the lake or the creeks don't freeze solid, it's just a layer of
ice on top of the river. So for the most part, the
eggs are pretty well-protected and the water's flowing and
not much changes for them throughout the winter. – [Lisa] Great, and for those
of you who were watching our webinar series back in February, we did have a webinar series
on salmon in the winter. So if you're curious about
that, you can go back to our NOAA Live Alaska webpage and see the recording for that. Hannah was wondering, what do salmon eat? – Salmon eat a lot of different things. So in freshwater, they're
eating pretty much anything they can get ahold of. Mainly that can be what are called, we call them dipterans,
but they're basically like small little water bugs.

So if you've ever gotten to
see water under a microscope, you see a lot of things
that are swimming around and crawling, basically
the salmon are eating whatever they can get ahold of there. And then when they migrate
out to the saltwater, they are eating a lot of
zooplankton and phytoplankton. So a lot of the things,
same things that you think of whales eating, salmon
are eating the same things.

When they're out there, they
can eat things that are maybe about that big in size. So up the length of my finger
so they can eat quite a bit. They're also eating other smaller salmon. But then, like I said, in
the marine environment, there's so many more better
food sources for them and that's why they can
put on so much weight. – [Lisa] Great, and in a related way, like back to our question about spawning, Tavi had wanted to know
what happens if the salmon don't spawn, can they stay
out in the ocean for longer? – That is a great question. And that is one of the things
that where it can be more, it depends on the species. So for coho or at least
for all of our coho, they immediately, they'll
spend that one winter or one year out there and they come back. But there are species, for
example, the Sockeye can spend anywhere between two to
three years out in the ocean.

Again, we don't know what
drives them to come back after two years or three. And then you can have
things like the Chinook or the King salmon that
can go up to six years out in the ocean. So it depends on when they're
feeling like coming back and when they feel they have
a best chance of spawning. But for coho, they will pretty
much always, they'll either not survive to return or they'll
return after that one year. – [Lisa] Got it. Carol was also wondering
whether there were some that don't go into the salt water
at all but stay in fresh water. – That's, this is where it
starts getting complicated.

There are some very rare cases of that happening where we
call them resident salmon or residualised or kokanee. And they'll actually, we
do have evidence of that in Auke Creek where we
have kokanees, sockeye that can stay in there. They, we believe they're
viable for spawning that they can successfully
spawn but they actually only get about that big,
they don't grow a lot. For example, like for female or something, the larger the fish you
have, the larger the fish, the more eggs there are in general. It's not a super successful
strategy for them, we call them, all these
different methods of salmon life cycles, we call different
life history strategies. So that kokanee or residual
salmon is not a very successful life history but it is one that exists. – [Lisa] Got it, I had no
idea that that kokanee salmon were up in the Auke Creek
area, so that's interesting. I've heard of them in
other areas down here in the Pacific Northwest so
that's an interesting thing.

– Yeah, they're very, we haven't been, it's
hard for us to study them in the freshwater 'cause we
can't, it's hard to get access of them 'cause they
don't pass past the weir. So it's just been over the
years, we occasionally can see one but it's very, very small numbers. – [Lisa] Very interesting. Anna Maria was wondering
why is the spawning adult red and green while the other
kinds are silver or gray? – That is, again, a fantastic question. So it depends on where in the life cycle that you catch the salmon. So in the ocean, they're
very that silvery color. When they're getting ready
to come back into freshwater, a lot of salmon will
completely change colors.

So for pinks, that's
where they get their name, they get more of a pink spotted
color, sockeye are known for their famous the
sockeye reds and the greens. But what that's what's causing
that is as a fish comes back to salt water, or comes
back to fresh water, they're devoting all of their
body and food and energetics and resources into preparing
themselves to have to again live in fresh water and
to make the migration.

pexels photo 206776

For Auke Creek, it's not that far. They only have to go maybe a mile upstream but there are some species
of salmon like chinook on the Yukon that they're
going to be migrating thousands of miles back
to their native stream where they'll come in
and Bristol Bay, Alaska, go through all of Alaska
into Canada to spawn. So they're developing all
those resources to go in there. And what happens as a result
of that is you start seeing they put them into their
muscle so they don't work on developing that coding
on the scales that you see. So you actually start the red
color you see is the color of the meat coming
through that you're seeing through the scales. And then the reason you
start seeing that color turn to a grayish brownish
color later in the year is, or later throughout
their migration is that their meat quality is degrading
because they're putting everything into muscle and the
reproductive organs to spawn.

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So that's, you're actually
seeing kind of the meat start to decay as they go from that
bright vibrant red showing their good quality meat
to lower quality later into their migration. – [Lisa] We have a couple
of comments that people, Hunter was amazed to think,
he couldn't imagine traveling over a thousand miles to get home. And yeah, it's amazing
to think that these fish are traveling that far. – Yeah, it's especially
those salmon that do the Yukon migration because
if you think about it, they're migrating to
somewhere in the Yukon portion of Canada.

When they enter the Yukon Delta in Alaska, there's no way that they
can any way smell or sense where their natal stream is
and they'll migrate all the way along the Yukon through there's
thousands of different turns that they can take, but
they always make it back to the exact stream where
they were spawned in. – [Lisa] That's pretty amazing. We have a couple other questions. So Mabel and Ruby from
Arizona were wondering what predators eat salmon eggs? – That's fantastic question. One of the main things
that can eat salmon eggs in our system are another
fish which is called sculpin. They're kind of ugly but
kind of cute little fish. And one of their main food resources is eating those salmon eggs. Additionally, there are Dolly
Varden and cutthroat trout which are smaller fish,
and there's actually been some studies done at
Auke Creek in a process that we called synchrony
in that as the, we see that the salmon will migrate
in and then quickly after, all the dollies and trout
follow because they're there to eat all those eggs and food resources.

And additionally, there
are some birds that can eat salmon eggs, a lot of seagulls, sometimes ducks as well and waterfowl. – [Lisa] Great, and then
going to the other end of the food chain, Carol was wondering what are the predators of the big salmon, like the
one that you were holding in the last question slide. – Definitely, some of their
main predators we've seen evidence of killer whales
predating on them as well as sea lions and then as
well the salmon shark that is, it's one of their main
food resources is the salmon. And then probably they're
definitely biggest predator of the adult salmon is us,
as humans catching them as a food resource.

– Right, and having them
on your dinner plate. – Exactly.
– And then last question before we go to the next section, Melissa was wondering
how long can salmon live? And you touched on this
a little bit earlier when you were talking about
the different kinds of salmon and how they have been
some have different lengths of cycles but I was wondering whether you could go over that again. – Yeah, definitely. I would say the shortest
period would be for pink salmon which they don't go through
the smoltification process, they actually migrate
out to the ocean as fry. So for our fish, they
would come back total age as a two-year-old. And then potentially the
oldest that you could see would be, if they stayed
in fresh water the longest amount of time in the
ocean a long sort of time would be kings that can go
up to around eight years. So there's a lot of variation
depending on what species that you're looking at and
then sockeye, coho and chum fall kind of in the middle
there with different strategies.

– [Lisa] Great, well, thanks and let's go into our next section 'cause I know you have a lot more to share with us. – Fantastic. So now I want to talk to you
guys about what is a weir. Some of you guys might
have seen these before. This is just a weir that's used by the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game that's designed to block fish passage. At its basis, we're just
there to either stop or capture fish. This is a picket weir so
it has just the core spikes that are driven down into the creek bed and there's cross supports
and then they just put a bunch of pickets over that are
just close enough together that fish can't pass through it. So if the fish was coming,
so this water is flowing destruction so this is downstream. They'd come up, hit the
weir can't go anywhere, so this would be used for
example if there was a large half route program and
they wanted to stop fish from getting into a new system,
that way they can protect the native systems.

But wiers are used for a lot
of different things as well. So like I said, at it's
core, a weir is simply a method for fish capture. So this is another Alaska
Department of Fish and Game or ADF & G fish weir. The fish migrate upstream,
they'll nose along the weir trying to figure out where they can go. One thing that's miraculous about salmon is they're, when they're
in fresh water as an adult, they're very cute in the flow. So they are excellent at finding
the most efficient way up the stream, you probably
have seen videos of salmon that are jumping up waterfalls
and all the different things so that flow super keys them in. So they have this capture
spot here right at the top of the weir so the fish will nose along trying to find the best flow. They'll get in here, biologists
come in, get in there and we can take samples,
do whatever we need to do and then we can release them
on their merry way upstream to continue their migration. So at its basis, it's just
a method for fish capture.

One thing that I find super
interesting is that weirs have been around for a very long time, and I'm talking thousands to
tens of thousands of years. Weirs have, or evidence of
weirdest have been found in many different cultures
all around the world from England, Ireland,
Scandinavia, Central Europe, down in the Philippines, over to down in Central and South America, as well as probably some
of the cultures that are most well-known for those
of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest,
that kind of have evidence of being some of the oldest weirs. Actually, this picture
here is from a remains of an old weir that was
from the early 1800s which was just simple
stack stones on a river bed that would force fish
through a specific show point where the fish could be caught.

And this is evidence actually
of a old Cherokee weir in the Southeastern United States which was just simple stack stones on each side of the river bed. The fish would migrate
through here, pass a trap and then it could be captured. And these examples are
hundreds of years old but actually there's been evidence off, by the University of
Canada off the coast of BC, found a (indistinct) about
120 feet under water. But due to recent sea level
rises, they found evidence of what appears to be an ancient weir that's about 14,000 years old. So actually some of the
oldest man-made structure that we've found have been
weirs which is kind of cool. Because if you think about that long ago, all these cultures, they couldn't
travel, they couldn't talk or communicate to each other, but 10s, 20s, 30 different
cultures all came up with the same method of fish capture
because it is so efficient.

Some of the earliest actual
like evidence that we see or recordings of fisheries
management, one of that we saw was the King of England
banned the use of rears around London because they were too
efficient at catching fish. Some of the first fisheries management was, no more using weirs,
they're to effective, we're going to destroy the populations. And that's why even to this
day, except for in some specific subsistence use, you run the
world, you don't really see fish weirs used because
they can completely harvest an entire migrating population
which means the next year there won't be any fish.

But its base, weirs can come in many different shapes and sizes. Here is again, a more
traditional picket weir but this one's actually
made completely out of log and timber and sticks. Even down to old ancient weirs
where they would just find a narrow part of the stream
and they would just stick tree sticks or limbs into the
creek bed at a very narrow point to capture fish as
they migrate and pass. So there's a lot of different
ways you can make a weir but they all do the same thing. And, but for me, where I work
at a weir, we're actually borrowing this very ancient
technology for modern science. Because even though it's
been thousands of years, we still haven't found a better way of catching fish for this method. So here you see the Auke
Creek weir which looks pretty similar, just
instead of steel pickets we're using I-beams and steel plates.

Mainly because this weir
where I work at has been in full-time operation February
through November since 1980. So we need something
that's a little stronger, coupled up to the
environment, but at its basis, it's still just a weir face
that fish can move up downstream and they can move, over here
is the only spot that's open which moves them into this capture pin, where then we as biologists can get in, we can take whatever
samples that we need to do or for any research projects
that we're working on. So it's kind of cool that we're using this ancient technology still today. Where I work is the Auke
Creek Research Station which is located in Juneau Alaska. Like I said, it's been
an full-time operation for, going on 42 years now.

And one thing that's
interesting about our weir is, this is what I've
shown you pictures of that this is a traditional capturing fish that are moving upstream. But one thing that's nice about Auke Creek is we can actually flip
the structure and change it's infrastructure around
to actually catch fish that are migrating downstream. So instead of catching adults,
we're catching pink fry that are maybe about the size
of the tip of your finger and that way, maybe about the
same as four or five grains of rice, so we're capturing everything. And because of the way of
the weir it's designed, we can actually capture
every single migrating fish that goes both upstream and downstream. So that makes Auke Creek one
of the only weirs in the world that has a 100% accounting
of every single fish that moves through it
which has gives some power to some of the research that we can do. Because instead of
having estimates of fish, we actually know how many
fish had moved through. And at its basis of its
core and what happens on a daily basis of Auke Creek is counting of every single fish.

So every fish, whether it's
the tiny pig fry which I think as of today, we're up to
13,000 of migrated this year. I've looked at every single
one or handled every single one as we count them out and
let them go about their way. Then turning again on the
adult capture, we're handling, physically picking up
and handling every fish, taking lengths and
weights and scales samples and genetic samples from these fish. So it's a lot of counting
but it's a lot of work. But luckily, Auke Creek has just about the right population size that it's not oppressive trying
to count every single fish. But like I said, we
sampled a small portion of all these fish, we shoot
for around a 10% sampling rate. So we're taking everything
from lengths, weights, we take scale samples, which
are for some of my research.

We take genetic samples so
that we can look at potentially what species is doing
best, what family groups are doing best and
sometimes we're also doing a lot of different research projects and we'll take different
samples as we can. So that's one thing that Auke
Creek, because we can count every fish, a lot of different
researchers come to us to try to test their theories and research because we have a perfect
place for doing so.

Additionally, one thing that
we do at Auke Creek is we tag all of our coho smolts that migrate out. So we place what's called a
coated wire tag which is a tag that's about as long of
a grit as a grain of rice and maybe as thick around
as maybe two or three strands of hair, so it's
really small, really fine. And we insert it right
at the tip of their nose and it has no effect on
them, doesn't bother them. Nestor the ties them
so that they're asleep during the process. So it's at no harm to them. And we take off one of their extra fins which is their adipose fin. What that allows us to do
is as those fish mature and they're caught in different fisheries no matter if it's in Washington,
Canada, way out in Alaska, they'll see that that fin
is missing and they'll know that fish has been tagged
so they can, the fish has been taken for harvest
anyway, so it's been killed.

So they'll take the head and
they can retrieve that tag and it has a six digit code on it that refers back to Auke Creek. So no matter where our fish
are caught, we know where they were caught and then what
fisheries they were caught. So all that information comes
together in that we know how many fish went out,
we know how many came back and we know how many were
caught in the fisheries. So it allows us to do
some really cool research because again, we're not
dealing with estimates, we're dealing with exact numbers. And by looking at that,
we can see potentially are they doing worse in
the freshwater period, worse in the marine period
or maybe just more fish caught in the fisheries
that year and it allows us to actually look at that. And then over a 40-year time
period, we can actually make some pretty strong observations
on how salmon are doing. And it gives this information then goes to the Alaska Department of
Fish and Game which they use to set management
strategies for the different species of salmon based
on how our fish are doing.

Additionally, like I said,
there's a lot of different salmon research that goes on. I want to talk to you a
little bit about the research that I did for my master's
project which was looking at changes in growth and
survival of coho salmon. One thing that's really
cool about salmon is that they have interesting
structures on their scales. And I don't know if you're
familiar with tree rings, but tree rings basically, if
you were to cut a tree down and look at the stump, on
the surface of the stump there are different
rings and for each ring that's a year that the
tree has been alive. Salmon actually do something very similar. Like you can see here in this picture, there's all these different
rings which we call circuli. The only difference with salmon is that they put down multiple circuli in a year.

So for example this
coho is three years old but there's a lot more
than three circular. But what's cool about the
circuli is how far apart their space shows how
much the fish was growing. So you can see here, this is
actually their freshwater zone. So as you can imagine,
that was a small fish, they haven't grown a
ton even over two years. So this would be two years,
and then this section would be one year. But the circular are
really close together. And then you see right when
they migrate out to freshwater as a smolt, these rings
start putting down a lot and they're really wide space. So this is actually that
first summer of growth for the fish. And then you see they start
getting a little closer together, this is winter, so
not as many food resources available for them in winter
because of temperature and different things. And then you see the next
summer where they migrate are starting to come back to Auke Creek they again get that large summer growth.

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And then this would be where
they would be, this last circuli is where they'd
be captured at Auke Creek and we take that scale. So by looking at this and
then we've taken samples at Auke Creek over the 40-year
time period, we can look and see was winter
growth stronger last year than it has been on
average, or what years did like the fish did really well in 2020. We could see maybe there's
summer growth was better, maybe their winter growth,
and it allows us to basically have a roadmap of what a
salmon's growth was like throughout the entire history
by just take one scale and then we have that across 40 years.

So it allows us to have
some really good archives of what salmon have been been
through over that time period. And again, any questions? – [Lisa] Actually, one of the
questions that just came out was that Michelle was wondering,
how do you spell circuli? – My spelling is horrible, C-I-R-C-U-L-I. – [Lisa] L I, okay,
'cause she was wondering whether it was an A-E at the end. One of the questions that let's see, I was looking
for Mabel and Ruby. Mabel and Ruby were wondering
how can the little cohos swim if you've cut one of their fins off? – That's a great question. So let's see, I might have
to go back a little ways. But if you remember this
photo I showed a salmon parr, actually let me quickly go find it, it'll be easier to show you. So here's that picture
again, of a salmon parr, I can actually show you better on a smolt. They have a lot of different fins. So this is the dorsal fin, adipose, this is their caudal fin,
and then they have pectoral, pelvic and anal fin.

So they have a lot of different fins. These fins are mainly used for swimming. This is used for
stabilization on the water and then this is used for
their main propulsion. The fin that we take off is
their adipose fin, back here, which is a fin that they don't really use, it doesn't serve them any purpose. So we can easily remove that
without harming the fish. It doesn't have any
impact on their survival but then it's a great marker
for future biologists to see that and be able to know that
that fish has been tagged. So just a really
convenient way to mark them that has no effect on them.
– Great. And then Mrs. Hemphill's
class from Eagle River was wondering what is the white
stuff that was on the scale where you showed where you were looking at the circuli on the scale? – This area here?
– Yes, I think that's what they're referring to.
– That area is, so the scales you can
kind of think about it like a feather on a bird.

So there's a bunch of feathers
that like would overlap over each other, it's the same for scales. So this area is just where
it's attached to the fish. – [Lisa] Okay, great. And I know that we have
about 11, 10 minutes left. So I'll just ask one more question. Tavi had wanted to know how many salmon do you typically tag in a day? – Luckily at Auke Creek,
it is not a ton of fish.

So at Auke Creek, a big day
for us would be a couple of thousand fish and that
would be a really big day. But there are some systems
elsewhere that do the same tagging process, they can
tag 10,000 fish in a day. So we have it pretty easy at Auke Creek. – [Lisa] Great, all
right, well, I'll let you get into your last section here. – Perfect, so moving on
to my last section here, I want to talk to you
guys just a little bit about salmon management. So all the different salmon catch methods that happen in Alaska,
how we manage for that. And then finally, a little
bit about stewardship and how we can be more responsible
in our protecting salmon and also our catching of salmon
so we avoid situations here where we get sea lions
caught up in fishing line. Before I get into salmon's management, I have another key thing
that I want you to remember and that is that salmon
are a Keystone species. To describe what a Keystone species is, I want to first describe
what a Keystone is.

So a Keystone is this, if
you're building a stone archway, and this was a technique
that was used way back in the Roman era, but if
you're building a stone archway and you start stacking stones
up, these stones will sit on top of each other just fine. But as you start adding
stones on this arch if this stone wasn't here,
these stones would fall down because there's nothing to support them 'cause they just slide at an angle.

So stone masons would put
in what is called a Keystone at the top of the arch that
all the forces of the stones on the edge would push against
so the arch would stay up. So without this Keystone, the
entire Archway would collapse. We can then draw that
parallel over to salmon. Salmon are a Keystone
species on which the rest of the ecosystem is relying upon. So if salmon were removed, we'd see large impacts to our ecosystem. So salmon are Keystone
species that are used by many other predators and for many other things. So for example like we
talked about earlier, there are other fish and
waterfowl that depend on salmon eggs for food resource for them. They are whales and sea
lions and salmon sharks that eat them as a food resource. There's us as well, we depend on salmon, salmon fisheries are some of the largest, most productive fisheries in the world. In Alaska we have, I
think, two of the five largest salmon fisheries. Additionally, there is
something that a lot of people don't realize and that is
that actually the dead carcass of a salmon is an incredibly
nutrient rich source of different things for plants.

So you'll actually see what we call marine-derived nutrients. So when that salmon comes
back, spawns and dies, its body decomposes and those
nutrients are used by trees. And you'll actually see,
especially if you're ever in Southeast Alaska, our
trees are massive down here and you'll see that trees
are taller, healthier, have more growth the closer
they are to a salmon stream. And then all those
different features decrease the farther away you get
from that salmon stream. So those marine-derived
nutrients are also big and something that a lot
of people don't realize. So all of those different
things are reliant on salmon which makes them that Keystone species. And because of that, it's really important that we manage them properly
because if we don't, we can't eat salmon or
bears won't be able to.

It has a lot of impacts if we, as humans, improperly manage or capture them. So one of the first of
the three main types of salmon harvests that
accounts for most of the catch is that of commercial salmon. And commercial salmon is, accounts for about 9.9 billion pounds of salmon caught every year. And I know to me, that's a
completely mind-boggling number. But if you think about, if you guys have ever gone on
vacation and taken a flight out of the 737 jet, if you
took every single jet 737 that has been built since they
were, since I first started being built to modern
day, that doesn't even, and weighed all of them,
that doesn't even add up to 9.9 billion pounds.

And yet we're harvesting that many salmon through commercial
harvest every single year. So there's millions and
millions of salmon that are being caught every year
for this commercial harvest. So as a result, and because
they're a Keystone species, we have to make sure that
we do that responsibly. And that's something that's
amazing about salmon is that we can catch sometimes
over 50% of the salmon that are migrating,
catch 50% of a resource and it's still sustainable. So that's what makes salmon
great about what they are. Additionally, there is,
so commercial harvest, those people going out and
catching large amounts of fish for making money. Sport Fishing is like you and
I, we go out with our rods or on our personal boats trying
to catch what fish we can. Sport fishing is the second
largest catch of salmon. It doesn't account for a
ton, but with Alaska's like charter fishing and
industries and what not, they're still quite a
bit that's accounted for and it's important that we
keep track of that to see whether these fish are being used. And finally, the smallest
but still probably one of the most important
methods of harvest is salmon subsistence.

And that is for indigenous
peoples in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest
to be able to catch salmon from their ancestral rivers,
like their ancestors have done for thousands of years and to have that important food resource. So all these three different
types of harvest come together that as biologists we
try to manage for one, we manage for the salmon to make sure that they're sustainable, that
they're going to keep coming back year after year after year. But then we're also trying
to manage and make sure that commercial fishermen have
enough fish to pay their bills and provide for the family
and that sport fishermen can go out and that sport
fishing industry stays alive and as well, importantly that there's food for subsistence use.

So there's a lot of different
things that we're trying to manage for and why we do
all this research and try to keep track of what's going
on with them and to understand how they're being affected
by the environment so that we can properly
manage for these things. Now, I want to just jump into a little bit to finish off on salmon stewardship. And what can you do in
your daily life, especially if you live in Alaska or
if you're not in Alaska, these are things that would
expand out to other fishing or being good stewards of
your marine environment. So main thing you can do,
that's the easiest one that you have to do anyway is
obey your fishing regulations. This is a document
that's put out every year by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. This one specifically for
Southeast Alaska that goes over all the different changes to
regulations in the last year as well as what the current
like how big of a fish you can take, how many you can take.

And it's really important to pay attention to these because some
years we might as biologist decide that a population that
you might've been fishing for four or five years,
it's not doing super well. So we're going to close
it for a year to give those salmon a chance to recuperate and that's where you
find this information. So be knowledgeable about
your fishing regulations and then obey them. Oops. Next thing you can do is try
to protect your salmon rivers or expanding out to other fish rivers. One of the main things that you can do is when you're out hiking or
whatnot, stay on the trails. If you're trying to climb on
the edge of the riverbank, you can destroy vegetation
which will lead to more erosion. Additionally, one of the most
important things for salmon when they're fresh water
is, the most valuable thing for them is shade. And if we start destroying,
knocking over trees, taking out plants, they lose a lot of
that shade and it heats up the creek which is harder
for them to survive.

So trying to protect your salmon
rivers is super important. Another thing that you can do
is watch out for the redds. And the redds, we talked
about a little bit before, which are those salmon nests. Here you can see in the
picture each redd is marked with a red dot and you can see this redds just going to have that
discoloration that can be anywhere between a foot to almost
three foot in diameter.

So watch out for those, because
in general, like I said, there can be anywhere
between a 1000 to 3000 eggs. But if surviving of
those eggs is really good and they survive to be a
parr, to smolt, to come back as an adult, we'd be
lucky if about 1 to 5%, oF those one to 3000 eggs survive. So if you put your boot
in the middle of it, that number goes way down. So really watch out for those
redds, learn to identify them, they're pretty easy to watch
for just by the discoloration.

So try to not step on those. Additionally, don't leave
your fishing line out. I know it's tempting when
you're fishing sometimes to, you knot in your line and
you just want to throw it down. But make sure you put in
your pocket so you don't have situations like this, where
you end up with sea lions that have salmon fishing
tackle caught on their mouth because then that can
either lead to their death or biologists have to
quickly fly out there and tranquilize the animal
which leads to stressing it out to try to remove that ear. So be really responsible
with your fishing gear and we're going to avoid those situations. Additionally, one not
a lot of people think about is avoid putting
pollutants in storm drains. A lot of times in the
Pacific Northwest, you'll see these storm drains with
signs of no dump waste drains to stream where these storm
drains they're designed to just pick up water
runoff and then they dump into freshwater or out into the ocean.

But if you're washing your
car with harsh chemicals and then you just think you're
washed out in the street, that's putting those harsh
chemicals directly out into salmon streams and
the marine environment. So try to be cognizant of
that and to not introduce more than we need to into our
streams can make a huge help. And then finally, a thing
that you can always do that there's always groups, whether it be NOAA, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game or tons of individual
agencies all around the nation and the world have programs
where you can volunteer to help restore wetlands and rivers.

There's things for everyone
from elementary school to as old as you want that
can go out there and help. They'll have gear for you
and you'll be doing things of removing blockage, the
fish passage, removing trash from rivers, tons of different
things that really help protect and restore wetlands and rivers. And those are things
that are super important that you can do to help and anyone can do. So with that, I'll end up
on, any other questions? – [Lisa] Well, I think we
are just about out of time so I don't think we'll be
able to take any questions but I wanted to thank you very much, Josh, for sharing all that information,
super interesting stuff. And we had a lot of questions
about the salmon life cycle and things about your job.

And so I really appreciate
you taking the time and talking with us. – Absolutely, I was, like I said, we love what we do and
we'd love to talk about it. And we always love to help out people that we can who are
interested in what we do. So we always love to talk about it. – [Lisa] Great, and thank
you all to our viewers, for tuning in and we're
back on our weekly schedule. So we'll be back next week
to talk about river breakup in Alaska and what happens
when the ice breaks up. So thank you very much for tuning in and we will see you next week hopefully.

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