The Wood River tower on the west side of Bristol Bay began its salmon escapement count at 12 am Sunday morning.
After constructing an aluminum counting tower on each bank of the river, ADF&G technicians began tallying the fish as they swam up the river to spawn.
KDLG’s Nick Ciolino was there for the first fish:
A three person crew of ADF&G technicians will alternate eight hour counting shifts throughout this year’s salmon run. The techs take a four minute skiff ride from the camp on Aleknagik Lake to the two aluminum counting towers on the banks of the Wood River. There they climb the tower and tally the fish that swim by with a clicker.
ADF&G technician Alex Pierro took the first watch.
“There you go. You see them? There’s one out that way; it kind of cut out a little deeper. First fish of the season,” said Pierro as he counted the first six fish to swim by after the count began.
The counts last for ten minute intervals which are multiplied by six to approximate the amount of fish that swam up the river bank that hour. Techs skiff back and forth across the river to each tower to maintain one count per hour on each bank.
“It get pretty busy sort of later in the season, and when it gets real heavy you’re actually clicking like every five fish—you know, you’re doing like a five count,” said Pierro as he began his second summer on the job. “By that time you’ve kind of trained your eyes well enough to know. You can tell how many fish are in a group and you can see kind of the patterns they swim in a lot better.”
Pierro also says it’s fairly easy to distinguish species as the fish swim by--something that cannot be done live with a sonar.
“We’ll count reds—the majority are reds. We’ll count kings; we’ll count chums. Didn’t get many pinks last year, but we’ll see about this year. It’s generally pretty easy,” said Pierro.
The Wood River tower is one of nine counting sites in Bristol Bay funded by contributions from the state and various industry entities. The physical live count method was developed by the University of Washington’s Fisheries Research Institute in 1956.
Out the river’s total run forecast of 5.5 million fish, 700 thousand to 1.8 million are expected to make it past the nets, and swim past the Wood River tower. Most will do so in the next four weeks.
Contact KDLG fisheries reporter Nick Ciolino at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-842-5281