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When Salmon Spawn

Sometimes it’s just wiser to push the books aside.

And realize the only way to learn some stuff is with our eyes and hands.

Which is how we ended up at Voights Creek Hatchery at 8 a.m. Monday morning. The salmon were spawning.

Or rather the salmon were going to be spawned. Hatchery style.

This is our friend Mr. Lunden who lives and works at the hatchery. He did a lot of patient explaining.

Here’s an old framed poster of what we hoped to see today. Mostly the guys on the left, though. The coho.

So right now, there’s a grate in the river stopping the salmon from swimming any further upstream. And against that grate are a few dead fish that need scooping out.

They smell like you’d expect…

Not so fresh.

Then as a few folks from other hatcheries arrive, they drag a lead-line net through the water to corral the fish…

And they anchor the net to a post on each side of the river.

Then within that netted area, another smaller net is looped to each end of the dock to condense the swimming quarters even further. Lots of fish. Tiny space.

Here’s the set up before people or nets or squirmy salmon. When all is calm.

In a bit, the fish will be sorted by gender.

Gents on the left.

Ladies on the right.

And here it begins.

With the long-handled nets, the fish are swooped from the water…


Then it goes fast.

Each fish is picked up and given a pat down. If it’s a female, her underside is felt for sagginess. And if she’s saggy, that means her eggs are ready. And she’s bopped on the head and tossed into the right side.

If she’s not saggy enough, she’s thrown back over the nets to another week of freedom.

Now the guy with the bat has two jobs.

He’s the one who clonks the fish on the head. The anesthesiologist.

And he’s the counter. He keeps track of the number of male and female fish. They’re after an equal amount of each.

So here he is. Bat in his left hand.

Counter in his right.


Post clonk.

Now there’s another guy standing there with a syringe. From sixty females, he’s collecting a half a cc of ovarian juice–the stuff squirting into the cup–which will be sent to a lab to determine disease of any kind in the salmon population swimming up this river.

Then with these orange cutters, the females are opened and their eggs harvested…

With bare fingers…ech…

Into a bucket.

When the bucket’s half full, it’s handed to these two who shoot the sperm from the fellows on top of the eggs.

Like so.

Then, a little girl in a pink coat gets to bring the bucket of fertilized eggs over to Mr. Lunden…

Who dumps them into a five-gallon bucket…

And keeps dumping them in…until the bucket’s nearly full.

Here are the boys.

All spermed out.


And the girls.


From the females now, sixty are picked out from the bunch…

And a piece of their kidney and spleen is sent away for further study.

Appetizer, anyone?

This. Is caviar.

The kind of fish eggs that are stuck in a clump.

For spawning, though, these eggs are “green”; they needed another week to be ready.

Now with that bucket of fertilized eggs, five hundred eggs are gathered and weighed.

This spatula holds one hundred at a time.

One hundred.

Five hundred.

Then the eggs are poured into trays where they’ll stay for months as they slowly develop in creek water. The colder the creek water, the longer they take to develop.

Here Mr. Lunden is pouring a half cup of iodine in with each tray of eggs. This works as a disinfectant. An hour later, creek water flushes the iodine away.

We don’t stay for the fish sorting.

But that blue machine detects metal and beeps if a fish passes with a hatchery tag somewhere in it’s head.

Then it’s more paperwork to keep track of fish with tags and fish without.

Enough to make your head swim, I suppose.

As we left, I was wholly certain I could be happy never harvesting fish eggs.

My daughter walked out wanting to work there.

And my son …

my son just asked for a tuna fish sandwich when we got home.


One Response to “When Salmon Spawn”

  1. Bel McCoy says:

    Thanks for the tour!!! I’ve know “Mr. Lunden” since before he was born… good friends with his parents.

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