Thursday, December 16, 2010

Four Years at the CRFPO

It all started about four years ago when I first found myself standing in waist deep water inside a cold and dark room. As I checked my surroundings, my senses were overwhelmed by the thick, damp, and cool air. The strong smell of heavy moss that characterizes many streams in the Pacific Northwest filled my nostrils with every breath. This room had the feel of a place that people rarely entered, and those that did come here, didn’t stay for long.

Prior to my entrance, the water in the room was still, now it rippled and boiled, for my presence had stirred many beasts under the surface. The powerful animals were becoming nervous, and they began to express their will to survive regardless of my intentions. Echoing sound waves from nearby rapids pulsated off the concrete walls and continuously reminded me that I was way out of my element. I struggled for balance on the slick flooring nervously looking up at my coworkers above to ensure I hadn’t been abandoned. I continued on and apprehensively scooted my feet towards the grey ghostly shapes as they had now congregated in numbers near the corner of the room. My mind subconsciously flashed to a Star Wars scene where Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were faced with a mysterious aquatic animal (a hungry dianoga) in the waters of the Death Star’s trash compactor. As I closed the distance on the group, they grew increasingly nervous probably realizing I had no intent of halting my forward progress. My anticipation grew as I knew with just one more step I would be within netting range, and prove my merit to my coworkers watching from above. Just as I was visualizing how I would expertly step and swipe up my prey like a hungry osprey, the group broke ranks like NFL linebackers and burst from their huddle in a violent tail walk assault across the surface of the water towards me with speeds that seemed to approach time travel. Instantly drenched with water and defeat, I made a defensive and empty swipe in a convulsive manner that had very little in resemblance to a raptor’s successful quest for prey.

My attempt at self-protection also failed as a heavy-shouldered 15 pound Eagle Creek steelhead had just rammed into my leg knocking me off balance and nearly upending me. With a bruised shin and ego, I regained my balance, smiled, and absorbed the echoing laughter that bounced off the ladder walls as my coworkers above expressed copious amounts of joy in knowing the new guy had just been beat into the gang. Steelhead 1, Trevor 0, and that is how the score began as I awkwardly wandered around the fish ladder proceeding to help capture, bio-sample, tag, and release every one of the dozen adult steelhead remaining in the trap. I knew from that day on that this new job as a Fish Biologist with the Columbia River Fisheries Program Office was going to be challenging, exciting, rewarding, and right up my alley.

Fast forward four years after my first field day, and I am now packing up my office and taking my experiences with me as I began a new permanent job with NOAA Fisheries hydropower division. Looking back after four years, I realize that I have become comfortable inside fish ladders, hatchery raceways, and streams while working on countless projects doing things that I could previously only dream of. The projects I have worked on at this office have not only been fun and exciting, but more importantly I feel they helped contribute to the continued benefit of both fish and fisheries.

Whether I was sliding around in murky fish ladders, capturing and tagging fish, building PIT tag antennas, writing reports, or conducting numerous other tasks, I gained skills at this office that will no doubt be invaluable as I continue on my career path. There is now doubt in my mind that many aspects of working here will be missed. However, what I will miss the most as I leave this office isn’t the excitement of the field work or the rewarding challenges, it won’t be the roomy office with a door and the short commute, it won’t even be the slimy fish hands and numb fingers. What I will miss the most without a doubt will be the friends and coworkers who have shared this experience with me and contributed so much to the comradery that make this office a truly great place to work.

So with that I will pack up my gear and take a turn down the road of life, and hopefully bump into you all in future travels. Thank you all for the wonderful experience and I hope you all the best.

Submitted by Trevor Conder


  1. Love it! Great post, Trevor - best of luck to you in your next chapter! :o)

  2. It was an honor and a pleasure to work with you...Fish Biologist?...writer, definitely! Bob H., Mari M. and I wish you good luck on your future endeavors and career path.