Why do salmon jump? Exploring the Medvejie Hatchery in Southeast Alaska

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Fishing season is in full swing here in Southeast Alaska. The docks of Sitka are buzzing with fishermen anxiously awaiting every available opener to go out and get the next big catch!
Here in Southeast Alaska, fish are a part of every day life. One in 10 jobs in Sitka is directly related to the fishing industry. But, salmon is important for subsistence and recreation in the Tongass National Forest as well. The Tongass produces 28 percent of Alaskan salmon. Salmon hatcheries play an important role in mitigating disease among salmon and ensuring salmon populations can meet the economic and cultural demands of the region.
The Medvejie hatchery in Southeast Alaska is a short boat ride away from Sitka and it produces chum, Chinook (King) and coho salmon, by themillions.

Baby cohos are kept in tanks until they are released in fresh water streams in the Tongass.

Hatcheries support wild populations of salmon, they do not replace them. Housing salmon for just their early months, the fish are released into fresh water streams that lead straight to the ocean. The ones that survive the fishing season, return home to the hatchery to spawn (lay eggs) and then die. Salmon traditionally return to the stream they were born to spawn.
The stream at the Medvejie hatchery is fondly referred to by workers as the "Spawnoma Canal." After the salmon come up, hatchery workers release eggs and sperm into a bag to fertilize them and then they preserve the meat to be sent to fish processing plants. Outside of hatcheries, the dead fish are eaten by bears and eagles and their carcasses help fertilize the surrounding soil.
Medvejie, like all hatcheries, has a way of marking all of their fish so they can keep track of how many make it back to the hatchery and how many are caught in the wild. By changing the temperatures of the boxes where eggs are kept, a barcode is created on every fish's eardrum. They also tag each fish with a number (usually on its face).

More baby cohos being shown to tourists at the hatchery.

So, why do they jump? Well, no one really knows. Some say jumping helps loosen the eggs before it's time to spawn. Some research shows that salmon jump in response to pressure and stress. Others just believe the fish are having fun. You know, the #yolo mentality! There are a lot of theories and explanations floating around, but no salmon has ever answered the question for us, so we may never know for sure.

Sitka Conservation Society employees feel the baby salmon nipping at their fingers inside the Medvejie hatchery.

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