Last month, the Columbia River Fisheries Program Office (CRFPO) held its first ever ‘open house’. This event was targeted at local high school students to showcase careers in science as well as give them a closer look at some of the specific activities performed by our office.
The students were scheduled to arrive at 9 am on a Tuesday. Around 8:40 am, I heard a co-worker exclaiming that a school bus had arrived. Well, just a little early. Sometimes it is hard to keep the buses on schedule. I quickly alerted everyone that the students had arrived. Even though we planned on a short introduction to the CRFPO in the conference room, I knew folks would want to get to their stations and prepare for the onslaught of students.
Howard Schaller, our project leader gave a short PowerPoint presentation outlining the what, how, and whys of what we do here. The students seemed interested but were soon ready to head out for some hands on activities. We had prepared four activities lasting about ½ hour each, so we divided the students into four smaller groups and each group went to a different activity. After two hours they had rotated through all four activities.
The first activity took place in our ‘head room’ and lab. The head room is the room the crew uses to cut coded wire tags out of fish snouts that return to the hatcheries. Here, the students learned about aging fish by reading fish scales. Steve had previously rounded up a Chinook salmon from one of the hatcheries and each student removed a scale and placed it on a card that was pressed between a special film. They later went into the lab and using a microfiche reader, looked at the scales to determine the fish’s age. A coded wire tag was also available to look at under a microscope, and Jesse explained the purpose of marking fish using this technology. General information on the marking program was conveyed to the students as well.
The students left the lab and entered the warehouse where there was a fish identification lesson. They only had to sit for a short introduction before moving about and identifying real fish specimens. They used a dichotomous key to identify key features of lamprey, coastal cutthroat trout, coho and Chinook. I heard comments such as ‘I actually learned how to tell the difference between a coho and Chinook fry’ as the students left for their next activity.
Next, the students followed our guides to the wareyard. There, 2 large tanks were set up, corks bobbing in water. A short presentation was given by staff biologists on how to estimate fish population abundance using a mark/recapture method. With the use of blindfolds, nets, and a calculator, the students soon figured out that the precision of their estimate was dependent on such variables as number of fish marked and the number of recaptures. Since the students were already in the wareyard, the place where a lot of our sampling gear is stored, they had a bit of time to see screw traps, electro fishing boats, and lamprey sampling gear up close.
From the yard, the students walked across our parking lot to a vacant field across the street. They were met by biologists from the Hatchery Assessment Team. They were given the task of finding a radio tag that was previously placed in the field. After a short demonstration on how to use the radio antenna and transmitter, the students took over. Our biologists remarked on how quickly the students could find the tag using triangulation.
The teacher thought the day was awesome and it has already spurred some interest from a few of the students as a place to do a senior project or volunteer. We here at CRFPO all thought the day was a success and plan to do this every year. So, if there are any teachers in the area who may be interested in attending our open house, let us know! And, keep an eye on our blog over the next couple of weeks –the biologists who ran each activity will tell you a little more about what they showed the students. Who knows – it might give you an idea for something new to try, whether it’s in the classroom or in your own career!
Submitted by Donna Allard