Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
COLEMAN NFH: Returning a Favor: Coleman National Fish Hatchery Assists Iron Gate State Fish Hatchery
California-Nevada Offices , November 1, 2011
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Keith Pomeroy, Iron Gate State Fish Hatchery Manager, crowding the last fish in the raceway to the pump intake.
Keith Pomeroy, Iron Gate State Fish Hatchery Manager, crowding the last fish in the raceway to the pump intake. - Photo Credit: USFWS: Terry Freije

By Brett Galyean, Coleman NFH

From 2008 through 2011, Coleman National Fish Hatchery Complex (NFHC) trucked a portion of its production quota, 1.2 million fall Chinook salmon smolts out of 12.5 million, to San Pablo Bay. From 2009 through 2011 transportation was done with assistance from the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), and the Feather River State Fish Hatchery.

Utilizing three CDFG semi-tanker trucks, along with one Coleman NFHC truck to transport the smolts to San Pablo Bay, it took four days to haul the salmon smolts to the bay. Which is rapid compared to 2008 in which it took nearly a month because fish were transported using only Coleman NFHC trucks. The assistance from CDFG in trucking fish and cutting the transport time was greatly appreciated by Coleman NFHC staff, and in 2011, the Coleman staff was able to return the favor.

During the summer of 2011, Coleman NFHC’s project leader Scott Hamelberg was part of a hatchery scientific review board that traveled to many of the hatcheries in California. One of the hatcheries that Hamelberg visited was Iron Gate State Fish Hatchery (SFH). While at Iron Gate SFH, the group discussed the loss of fish from the raceways due to birds, in particular great blue herons, which eat a significant portion of the production.

At the time of the visit, Keith Pomeroy, Iron Gate hatchery manager, had only an estimate of the loss of fish due to birds. In their discussions, Hamelberg suggested using Coleman’s Vaki Fish Counter to enumerate the loss of fish due to the birds. Iron Gate SFH knows exactly how many fish are placed into each raceway due to the Northwest Marine Technologies Auto-Fish trailers that are used to mark, tag, and count the fish. However, at release staff had no easy and accurate way of count the loss of Chinook salmon due to birds.

The staff at Iron Gate SFH tries to minimize the number of fish consumed by the birds while in the rearing units. Small electric fences are placed on the raceway walls to discourage the birds from walking on the walls and taking fish. Staff members that live at the station harass the birds in the evenings in an attempt to reduce the number of fish taken after hours. These measures help, but short of an exclusion cage surrounding the raceways to keep the predators out, there is little else staff can do.

This is where Coleman NFHC became involved. Several years ago Coleman NFHC purchased a Vaki Fish Counter along with an Aqua-Life BioStream Fish Pump. These were purchased for several reasons, to relieve the stress on the fish during times when the fish are split out of one raceway into two raceways, to relieve the strain on staff from lifting many hundreds of pounds of fish during splitting operations, to get a more accurate count of the fish during the split. This makes the counting unit very useful because it benefits the fish and staff at Coleman NFHC.

In October of 2011, a formal agreement was made to have a staff member from Coleman NFHC travel to Iron Gate SFH and operate the unit, with the assistance of staff at Iron Gate SFH. Fish Biologist Terry Freiji was chosen to travel and operate the unit at Iron Gate SFH. Since the unit’s introductions at Coleman, Freiji has become very familiar with operating the unit and has solved several problems with the unit and the pump in the past.

On the morning of November 7, 2011, Freiji coordinated with staff from Iron Gate SFH and staff from Pacifi-Corp, the company that operates Iron Gate dam and funds the hatchery. Pacifi-Corp provided a generator to power the fish pump, which requires 480 volt power. Freiji was able to count the majority of the first raceway during the first day. Iron Gate employees assisted by crowding the fish from the raceway into the counter unit. The unit and pump were able to count between 600-1,000 fish per minute on the first day.

By morning of the second day,  Freiji finished counting the first “D” series raceway, and moved the unit to the “H” series raceway.  Having become familiar with the unit and the technique needed to crowd the fish, hatchery staff and Freiji were able to finish counting the “H” series, and to disinfect the equipment prior to the end of the workday. Freiji returned the following morning and with the help of Iron Gate SFH staff, loaded the equipment and returned to Coleman NFH. After two days of counting the raceway totals for “D” series raceway were 150,638 and “H” series contained 166,672 fish in it at release. The starting totals were 165,000 salmon in “D” series and 176,000 in “H” series raceway.

After the project was completed, Iron Gate SFH manager Pomeroy expressed his apprecitation for the help that Coleman NFH provided. Freiji remarked that it was Coleman that was “repaying a favor” in a small way compared to all the help it received from California Department of Fish and Game in prior years. Cooperation is one of the goals stated in the mission statement of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This example of two agencies cooperating and sharing a unique, and useful piece of equipment,  as well as staff getting a chance to meet and work with staff from other agencies, highlights the Service's committment towards this goal. We may wear different patches, but the goal is the same, working for the public and natural resources.

Contact Info: Brett Galyean, 530-365-8622, brett_galyean@fws.gov
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