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Apr 28

Raising Salmon at The Office

Posted on April 28, 2022 at 5:50 PM by Camila Matamala-Ost

For the first time this year, PCD raised live animals in our very own office-coho salmon! We raised them for Salmon in the Classroom, a partnership between Foss Waterway Seaport (FWS), Tacoma Public Schools (TPS), and our Environmental Education team. We helped FWS teach lessons, provide tank support, and troubleshoot tank issues at 12 Tacoma elementary schools. When all was said and done, we had our salmon for about four months, raised them from eggs to fry and then released them into the wild. There was so much to learn and do to raise our coho, which took a lot of time and attention, but it was completely worth it!

The PCD salmon about one week before they were released to Swan Creek.First things first-we had to get the tanks set up, our own and the ones at each participating school. This meant connecting the filter, tank, and chiller together with hoses (avoiding leaks and spills as much as possible), dechlorinating the tap water (chlorine is harmful to the fish and the good bacteria), adding a bacterial cocktail to help manage organic waste, and letting it all cycle and establish a healthy environment before the eggs arrived. It was vital to get the tank in the right conditions for our fish-we essentially recreated a natural environment as closely as possible.

PCD and Foss Waterway Seaport help the McCarver 5th grade teachers set up their school tank.Then came the eggs! Everyone received their eggs on November 30, 2021 from Diru Creek Hatchery, which is part of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. Each tank started with 150 eggs, which sounds like a lot until you consider that an average adult female salmon can lay between 2,000 and 3,000 eggs! Between TPS, FWS, and PCD, we were raising the equivalent of just one female’s entire clutch of eggs! 

Thousands and thousands of eggs from Diru Creek Hatchery

Once the eggs were in the tank, our main job was to keep track of the water chemistry and temperature, making sure everything was in the right condition for the salmon. You might think there wasn’t much else to see at this stage, but amazingly many of the eggs wiggled around enough to stand out! Some were so enthusiastic in their movements they could skip over a few pieces of gravel and land in a new spot! There were other developmental changes as well: the eyes of the fish became visible first, then their spines and other features of their anatomy. Most of the eggs hatched about 2 weeks later, at which point they became alevin with the characteristic yolk sac attached to their bellies. They loved to hide in the gravel at this stage, away from the prying eyes of “predators” (the PCD staff).

A few days into January, some of the more mature coho who had mostly absorbed their yolk sac started exploring the rest of the tank and began to build up the strength and stamina necessary to survive in the wild. Once the majority of salmon were “buttoned up” (completely absorbed their yolk sac) a few weeks later, we were able to feed them real food! This came from the hatchery as well, a perfect blend of insects and even adult salmon (things they would actually eat in the river)! All that was left was to keep their tank clean and feed them enough so they would grow big and strong for the outside world.

March had some of the most exciting events, as each participating class received two in-person lessons on salmon and the necessary components of healthy habitat (a Dream Stream). These students, the majority of which were in 5th grade but a few were as young as 2nd grade, actually made the decision where to release their salmon. This decision was between three different creeks, and they determined the release site based off the lessons and a virtual survey, including data gathered by PCD’s Stream Team. The winner by a landslide was Swan Creek, as it met the required 3 C’s for salmon habitat: Clean, Cool, and Clear water. Finally, the schools signed up for a half-day field trip during the last week of March to visit the creek, go through three different stations to confirm that this was the best release site, and then send their salmon off to start their epic journey. This part was by far the most exciting, especially since some of these students had never been to Swan Creek. This may have even been one of the first field trips for some of the younger students, due to restrictions of in-person events for the last 2 years. Students were able to complete several different water quality tests, observe samples of live macroinvertebrates (salmon food), and enjoyed an Ecosystem walk to view the native plants. Everything went smoothly-we completely lucked out with the weather, all the salmon were given names by the students and released, and only one student fell in the water! They took it like a champ- they got right out, said they were just fine, and went through the rest of the stations like nothing ever happened!

A Foss Waterway Seaport volunteer helps students release their salmon into Swan Creek.This was an incredible project to be part of, and one that PCD will participate in every year as it continues to grow and add a handful of new schools each year. Not only is this an opportunity for students to learn about the role of salmon in the ecosystem, but it will support the coho population in Swan Creek- there are few of these salmon present in the area now, although historically they had a huge presence. This is one of the Puyallup Tribe’s missions, especially because salmon are such a significant animal in their culture and their traditional and inherent fishing rights. Salmon in the Classroom is a chance for PCD to work with several different partners and strengthen those connections, and even make some new ones along the way. It is a way for people to come together and recognize the importance of coho salmon and the impact they have on the world around us. We are already looking forward to a new batch of salmon for next year!

To get a glimpse of the fieldtrips, watch this TPS TV Classroom episode featuring students from Jefferson Elementary School!