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A day in the life of a fisheries technician

What's it like to work at a remote fish counting weir? We asked one of our seasonal fisheries technicians to walk us through a typical day.

by | October 20, 2022

A fisheries technician looks out over Delight Lake.
CIAA seasonal fisheries technician Max Tostenson takes in the view at his summer job site. Max Tostenson

We asked our seasonal employees to help us picture a typical day at one of the remote locations for Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association. We heard from Max Tostenson, a fisheries technician at Tustumena and Delight lakes. Here’s what he had to say:

Walk us through your daily routine

At Tustumena, Jacob (a coworker) and I would walk to the smolt trap at around midnight each night. When the water came up near the end of June we were able to use the Inmar inflatable raft. Depending on smolt numbers for the night, we would count anywhere from one hour to a couple of hours.

We would then walk back to the Weatherport tent at the campground between 4 or 5 a.m. and catch a few hours of sleep before waking up around noon. After we woke up and ate breakfast we would walk to the trap and count the remaining fish in the trap.

The Delight Lake project was highly dependent on the number of fish coming up from the ocean. High water days, which for Jacob and I was every day, produced a large quantity of fish. As soon as we woke up, we would listen for pickets knocking, if the knocking was at a minimum we would make breakfast, but if it was clear that there was plenty of salmon and dollies we would count first. Periodically through the day we would check the weir for fish and clean it afterwards.

At the Bear Lake egg take, mornings varied with the number of fish that were already captured from the day before. If there was enough fish for an egg take, we would proceed with the day in that fashion. It was nice that each day a different role was assigned to each member.

A fisheries technician counts salmon at a weir trap.
A fisheries technician counts salmon at the inclined plane smolt trap on the Kasilof River. Max Tostenson

How did the weather affect your work?

Coming into Alaska, I had somewhat of an idea of what the weather would look like. I was told Delight Lake was a very wet place, so I came prepared. I brought two rain-jackets and I’m glad I did, even though I didn’t use my backup.

At Delight rain is a daily thing, a positive mindset and a love for the job goes a long way. Bear Lake was the same situation in which it rained quite a bit but after 14 inches of rain in 22 days at Delight, I was prepared for any type of weather.

The only thing that affected my work at Kasilof was the cold early mornings in May, I was glad that I had brought wool because it still holds heat when it is wet.

Where did you sleep and keep the stuff you brought with you?

Whenever we were at headquarters between special projects or for training I stayed in the tiny house — and it wasn’t bad at all. I stayed warm and was comfy on the cot and pad. The stuff I brought with me was kept in my car or next to my cot. The Weatherport tent was nice at both special projects and it was good to be able to spread my things out a little bit more than headquarters housing.

When you were not working, how did you spend your time?

It was very nice having a car in Alaska, the opportunities were endless for a fisherman like me. There was multiple trips to Seward, Homer, and Kenai when I was at Kasilof. Jake and I fished the Kasilof a lot, fishing wasn’t very great during smolt season, but we managed a couple of fish.

What strategies do you use to stay focused on an accurate count?

The biggest thing during smolt season when it comes to an accurate count is avoiding conversations during the counting.

A fisheries technician holding an adult salmon.
Max holds a chum salmon at the Delight Lake weir. Max Tostenson

Why do you believe your work is important to Alaska?

A sustainable fishery is a very important thing to have, and it is good to see all of the regulations and money that is put toward the salmon in Alaska. The work that we did was very enjoyable and important for years to come.

What was your favorite part of the job?

There is something about counting fish going through the weir at Delight Lake. The water is the clearest I will probably ever see and the fish were very abundant. It took strategy in everything we did at the Delight Lake weir and that is what I appreciated about it.

What lessons will you take away from this experience?

There are many things I learned in Alaska including salmon identification, bear safety, and my outlook on positive mindsets. I will forever be grateful for my experiences in Alaska and I look forward to future employment in Alaska.

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