There are Coho salmon in the Building 15 fish tank most of the year. TCC’s biology Laboratory Staff pick them up as eggs from a local hatchery during winter break. As they develop into newly-hatched alevin, and then rapidly develop into free-swimming fry, they educate several classes of biology students, who study and help care for them every step of the way. But for the students, laboratory staff, instructors, and salmon alike, the most exciting day of the year is the day – always during Earth Week – when the fish are released into Puget Creek.
Located about 1,000 feet from Puget Sound, where the salmon will eventually end up, the Puget Creek watershed has come a long way in the last few years. With help from a number of volunteers and local groups, in particular the Puget Creek Restoration Society, the area has been restored into the kind of habitat salmon fry love – with pebbly creek beds, plenty of hiding spots along the bank, and salmon berries and other greenery waving overhead to protect the water from overheating in direct sunlight. The salmon will hang out there until they’re ready – usually about a year, according to Biology instructor Shaun Henderson – and then head out into the Sound as sea-going smolts.
The fish make their journey from aquarium to stream in a bucket nestled in crushed ice and filled with constantly aerated water. Biology instructors give a little talk about what makes Puget Creek good habitat, and then the group plunges into the muddy trail that leads to the release point. (Always wear boots!) The instructors scoop the fish into paper cups for students, employees, and visitors, who release them gently into their new home.
After the salmon release, the students move to a different part of the stream and take water quality samples. For Puget Creek fry the quality of life has been getting better every year, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure.
Happy Earth Day to “our” salmon!