Fisheries Technology: Picking up where we left off

The Fisheries Technology dual enrollment course reconvened for its second, two-week round in April! During the first elective phase, eight Hoonah high school students began the UAS course and learned about fisheries management with a focus on salmon, halibut, and crab fisheries. This time they learned about sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay, clam fisheries, skates, and the sac roe herring fishery through their online video lectures.

Half of the Fisheries Technology class working on their online video lectures

While their video lectures (provided by UAS) cover required course material including life cycles, fisheries management styles, gear and technology, ongoing research and other related topics, HIA Environmental is supplementing the class by helping coordinate and prepare field trips, guest speakers, and other activities. This allows students to learn in diverse ways and from interdisciplinary perspectives to help engage and connect with the material. Plus, learning through hands-on activities and community members is just more fun!

The herring must have heard the Fisheries Technology course was back in action and wanted to join, because they came to town right on time with the course! The students met the herring at city dock where we spent the day jigging. Ian Johnson and Sean Williams with HIA Environmental set the students up for success by teaching them how to prepare rods for jigging and showing them little tricks and tips to catch herring. It was fun for the students, but maybe not as fun for the 30 herring that were caught. They were put to good use though- they were put in the community garden as fertilizer so lots of potatoes can grow this summer!

The class took another field trip to Gartina and Shaman Point to take shellfish samples with HIA Environmental’s IGAP Coordinator, Jeromy Grant. Jeromy regularly takes shellfish samples from these two sites to monitor what and how much harmful toxins are in our blue mussels, cockles, and clams. We harvested 10 cockles, 10 clams, and 60 blue mussels from each site and sent them to our partner SEATOR in Sitka to do the analysis. About a week later we found out that, while all of them had paralytic shellfish poisoning (or PSP), butter clams had over the safe limit of PSP.

Later, we took a field trip to the boat yard where we met with local commercial fisherman, Jim Dybdahl. Jim’s boat the Carol Ann had been dry docked for maintenance. He discussed the importance of maintaining your boat while they used a travel lift to carry and set it back into the water. It was cool to see the travel lift in action! We then met Jim at the harbor where we hopped on the Carol Ann, looked at and discussed some of the different types of gear, and Jim shared a few of his experiences commercial fishing. Thank you Jim for sharing your boat and knowledge with us!

On a gray, overcast Friday, the class went back to Gartina and Shaman Point to collect water samples for HIA Environmental using a net tow. This allows us to identify what harmful phytoplankton are in the water. After collecting the data we returned to the classroom and practiced identifying phytoplankton under the microscope. The following Monday we went to HIA Environmental’s lab continue the water sample. The class split into two teams to identify and record phytoplankton present at both sites. This data will also be sent to our partners in Sitka for analysis.

Students gathering water samples (left) and the phytoplankton located from the sample (right)

The class took a beach detour to collect some shells for a mini science experiment to illustrate the effects of ocean acidification. Ocean acidification occurs when the number of Hydrogen ions (H+) increases in the ocean. An increase in Hydrogen ions causes a decrease in pH, meaning the water becomes more acidic (the lower the pH, the more acidic a solution is). Increasing carbon dioxide emissions is one source of increasing H+ ions in our ocean.

These organisms are all threatened by ocean acidification

To demonstrate the effects of ocean acidification on marine life, we placed our seashells in two solutions with different pH levels: seawater (with a pH of about 7- known as “neutral”), and vinegar (with a pH of about 2.5- known as “acidic”). We collected blue mussel, cockle, clam, and limpet shells- all of which are made out of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) like all other shelled organisms in the ocean. When ocean acidification occurs, there are less carbonate ions available for these critters to make their shells. They then have to spend more energy to make their shells, oftentimes causing them to be smaller in size or more vulnerable to predators due to weaker shells. Other creatures need carbonate ions to develop shells too: crabs, chitons (gumboots), barnacles, lobsters, shrimp, marine snails, sea urchins, oysters, scallops, and more! Imagine how many negative consequences there would be if all of them were smaller, and there were way less of them? We discussed these processes and impacts, and monitored the seashells in vinegar after a few days (spoiler alert: they partially dissolved, some had gaping holes, and often crumbled at the slighted touch).

Students wrapping up their lectures for this elective block

Another important aspect of the Fisheries Technology course is helping students find out what field they want to work in, especially related to natural resource management. To introduce the class to one potential career pathway, Mary Beth and her coworker Nicole Shepherd visited the class to discuss careers with the National Parks Service (NPS). There are plenty of opportunities at the NPS to work in areas that resonate with each student’s interests!

We also virtually met with Vivian Mork, a Tlingit cultural icon and herring advocate with Planet Alaska as well as many other organizations around Southeast. The class was fortunate enough to watch a film she assisted with, “Yáa at Wooné (Respect for All Things)” and discuss with her the importance of maintaining healthy herring populations for marine ecosystems and people’s way of life. Thank you Vivian and all the Herring Protectors for not only fighting for the herring but sharing your important work with the Fisheries Technology class!

Students interacting with Vivian Mork

Our short time together was jam packed full of these activities and others, including games, films, and exploring other cool stuff like the deep sea. It’s always fun and rewarding to engage with Hoonah’s awesome students, especially when we get to do and discuss cool stuff that’s important to Hoonah. Thanks again to Rachel Priser and Miguel Contreras with HCS for the help and for letting HIA join in on the fun; we’re excited to continue and wrap up the course in another few weeks!

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