How big are salmon eggs?
“I bet each egg is as big as my fist!” “No, I bet they’re as tiny as grapes!”
What if I told you I was carrying all your eggs in my bag right now?
“Wait, do you have them ALL in your bag right now?” “WHOA! Those are sooooo weird!”
I was raised on an island in Washington State by fishermen parents who introduced an appreciation for salmon from an early age. As something represented in art on the walls to educational videos I loved to my favorite mac and cheese addition, salmon was definitely something I was aware of. However through all of this, my exposure to salmon had been limited to their adult stages. I had never seen a salmon egg or any stage that was smaller than the family cat. So although my awareness and interest in salmon continued to adulthood, my experience as an AmeriCorps member at the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group (SFEG) has addressed a lifetime curiosity of mine: baby salmon.
On a frosty morning in January, I drove in the dark to the WDFW Hatchery in Marblemount and returned with over 2,000 developing coho salmon in a cooler. It was surreal to know that I had living, developing salmon in the back of my car and that in just an hour or so I would be presenting them to inquisitive students. As the Education Associate at SFEG, I help facilitate the School Cooperative Program (aka Salmon in the Classroom) within the Skagit and Samish River watersheds in Washington State. This program, for 3rd through 6th graders, aims to foster a stewardship ethic and environmental awareness by allowing students to raise salmon in their schools and release these salmon into their local watershed. This year I am working directly with 19 teachers in 8 elementary schools so that their students can take a hand in caring for the salmon that will be released this spring and become a part of the local ecosystem. Earlier in the fall, all the classes had learned about salmon, their habitat needs and life cycle, during an in-class presentation and then been on a field trip to a local stream where they put their new knowledge of salmon habitat to the test by assessing the available habitat.
The same wonder and excitement followed me to each of the eight aquaria where over the next few months, students and teachers alike are observing their salmon change from “reddish-orange Orbeez with eyes” to “strange looking sticks with jelly bean bellies” to “actual fish looking things” to quote some of the third graders from a Burlington Elementary School. In the next few months, students will make an excursion to a local stream and release their fry-stage salmon. And I cannot wait to experience more slightly less baby salmon.