A Summer with Alaska Department of Fish and Game on the Susitna River

Just another day at the office

Posted by Lindsey

Imagine living in the woods next to a river with no running water for 3.5 months… This was my summer internship with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G).  And I absolutely loved it!
Morning shift fish wheel check
It all started in a huge search for internships with ADF&G and similar agencies, like US Fish and Wildlife. ADF&G had the most to offer, so I began the application process. I applied for 6 internships around the state including: Fairbanks, Glennallen, Anchorage, Palmer, Kodiak and Dutch Harbor. Cover letters were written, resumes edited and application packets scanned and sent.Then the wait for a call for an interview began. Fairbanks and Palmer called, interviews were completed. Finally, it all ended with a call from both Fairbanks and Palmer, and both with job offers. I was so incredibly excited! I got the call from Palmer while I was in Fred Meyers, and I couldn’t help but leap around with excitement and do a little happy dance! I accepted the College Intern II position with the Palmer Sport Fish division.

Drift net shift!
Right after school was out for the summer, I was headed down to Palmer to start work. There was about a week of in-town work, then we packed up the boats, headed to the field and never looked back. The first few days were spent setting up camp: putting up our tents, unpacking tools, assembling the kitchen tent, organizing the office tent, pretty much getting everything habitable for the months to come. Then came the launching of the fish wheels. This was quite an undertaking that included a lot of rope, some PVC rollers and a barge to pull them off the bank where they were stored on for the winter. Here’s a video of the launch for one of the fish wheels: https://vimeo.com/112847233. Once the live boxes were attached, the fish wheels were moved into their spots along the river bank and we started spinning the fish wheels. A few days later, we started counting and tagging Chinook (king) salmon, and this marked the start of our 2014 field season.
Season record:1190mm/ 46.8 in
Our primary focus was to count all the fish that came through the fish wheels, for abundance estimates and radio tag Chinook (king), Coho (silver), and Pink salmon to track spawning distributions, as well as pull scales on Sockeye (red) salmon for aging purposes.
During Chinook season, we had 2 fish wheel crews and one drift net crew. Drift net shifts were everyone’s favorite, especially when the fishing was good! But for Coho season, there was no drift net shift, just fish wheels, sad. For both fish wheels and drift net, healthy fish were tagged and injured or sickly fish were counted then promptly returned to the river to continue their journey to their spawning grounds. It was really cool to see some of the injuries fish could get though, and it was often indicative of what tried to eat the fish. Injuries ranged from toothed whales like belugas, to seals, to squid, to various sharks, and lets not forget the elusive Dagger tooth.
A shark attack survivor
One of a fishes many predators, but oh so adorable

Not only was the job super awesome, but I made some great friends while working out there. My crew mates were awesome. For Chinook season there were 6 of us, then for Coho season we went down to a 4 person crew. And what a fun crew we had! We often stayed up late playing games, laughing, watching movies, or discussing life or the vastness of space.
Now you’re probably still wondering about the living situation… It was a unique situation, but it was pretty neat too. The kitchen area was a weatherport tent with all the modern amenities except a microwave. We had a propane stove and refrigerator. We had called in a grocery list once a week and groceries were delivered a day or so later by boat from town. But what about a shower you say? We had a shower stall constructed of plywood with a small propane heated shower unit so we had warm water for our showers… most of the time. There were occasionally shower issues in which case we heated water on the stove and took a bucket shower, which was just as good as any other shower! And finally the outhouse… The outhouse was awesome! Just a typical outhouse with a window that afforded you a nice view of the river, and the sunset/sunrise if you happened to be there at the right time of day.
Farewell Mainstem
Overall it was a great summer! I learned a ton and I’m a halfway decent boat operator now. And I can honestly say, I surprised myself a little bit. I figured I’d adjust to living in a tent on a riverbank with no running water alright, but I never realized how much I would like it. I took to that lifestyle really well and ended up loving it out there. It was especially cool when the coyotes would sing to each other at 2 am. There’s nothing like it!
Thank you Alaska Department of Fish and Game for offering such awesome internships! It was a summer I’ll remember for a long time! See ya’ll next year.

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