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'The People Who Count Fish:' One student's summer on Kodiak Island

by John Thompson
  • A resupply flight arrives in Upper Olga Bay.

WWU Honors Program student Alisa Aist spent last summer at a remote biological research station on Kodiak Island, Alaska working as a Fish and Wildlife Technician, or "fish tech," for the state of Alaska. Aist, who is a Biology major with a Marine Biology emphasis, made a video of her summer job, her duties, and the beautiful surroundings. To watch the video, go here. We caught up with Alisa after her return to campus and asked her a few questions about her summer.


How did you get the fish tech job, and are you from Alaska?

"This is my second summer as a Fish and Wildlife Technician II for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Last summer I worked on two fish wheels on the Susitna River and this year I worked on a fish weir on Kodiak Island. I am from Anchorage, and Fish and Game does try to hire as many Alaskans as they can. To get the job you have to be able to carry 50 pounds, recognize the five salmon species and be able to stay sane in a remote field camp. The state tries pretty hard to keep us happy while we are out at camp, which is really nice."

Those fish camps are pretty remote. What did you and the other fish tech do for fun besides count fish? I imagine the remote nature of the fish camp becomes both a good and bad thing?

"They are very remote, no wifi, no cell coverage, and a limited number of satellite phone minutes. The only constant contact we had was our morning radio calls with the office in Kodiak city and an Inreach which we could use to text viva satellite. For fun we could take hikes, as long as we were not gone for more than 3 hours. We also would play in the river on hot days and I read a lot! We also would watch movies together at night."

What's it like spending the summer in a tiny cabin with one other person you've never met before?

"Well, when you first get out there it is important to figure out if you get along with the other person. I lived in a 12-foot-by-20-foot cabin, with two small bedrooms and a living area. You never really get away from the other person so you have to at least be able to stand each other or else the summer will be miserable. I was fortunate, my partner and I both are interested in the same things and had complementary strengths and weaknesses. For example, she was afraid of heights, but I like them. So it is a bit of a gamble, but I had a great summer."

How are the fish counts that you did every day used to manage wild fish stocks?

"The fish counts are used to tell when the salmon are coming in and how many are coming. For each major salmon river, a certain amount of salmon have to return to their spawning grounds to ensure future salmon runs. So our counts help the Fishery Biologist chose when the fishery can be opened so each river gets enough fish but not too many. We have to report our fish numbers every morning for the previous day over a radio to ensure they always have the most up-to-date information."




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Wednesday, October 11, 2017 - 1:27pm