Saturday, August 7

The Chinook and Their Ladder

If you don't live where there are hydro dams, you may not know exactly what a fish ladder is. Its really just a way to get fish swimming upstream over the dam. Fish can't portage, of course, so a way needs to be made for them to swim around and over the dam. Here's a photo of the one at the hydrodam here.

This particular ladder is supposed to be the longest wooden fish ladder in the world. What it is, really, is a system of ascending weirs, and the fish move through, either leaping over the partitions or swimming through underwater doorways, from one weir to the next, until they are around the dam and into Schwatka Lake. From there they continue travelling to their own personal creek of origin, where they spawn and die.

This photo is of the dam itself. The fish ladder intake is in the middle left behind the trees. The people you can just barely see standing in the little cage are viewing the fish at intake to the ladder.

Here is a photo of the intake point from that little cage.

I could see 7 or 8 salmon milling about there--considering their options, I suppose--but they don't show up on the photos, because they rise to the surface where they can be seen only for a brief moment and then it's down under the swirling mass of water again.

Inside a little building built along the ladder is a place to view the salmon. Here's what one looks like from there.

There were 5 or 6 chinook in the viewing tank, but most of them were staying close to the bottom where it's difficult to photograph them. These guys and gals have been swimming up river since May, at this point having travelled nearly 2000 miles without eating--all the way from the mouth of the Yukon River on the west side of Alaska, to here, only a few miles from the source of the river. If you do the math--2000 miles, less than 90 days--you can see that they aren't just lolligagging along. Twenty miles or more per day, they swim.

As they pass through the ladder, they are counted, and their sex and size is determined and recorded. It was last Thursday that these photos were taken, and there had been 297 salmon through the ladder. Some of the fish will be removed here at the ladder so their roe can be hatched artifically, and the fry released in one of the streams next spring. All this fish management ensures the survival of the salmon in numbers great enough for food for people and other hungry creatures--like the grizzlies, for instance.

As I see it, this is all part of our God-given job of care-taking the earth.

God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them,
"Be fruitful and multiply!
Fill the earth and subdue it!
Rule over the fish of the sea
and the birds of the air
and every creature that moves on the ground."

Genesis 1:27,28 (NET)

All of God's created gifts are ours to use to meet our needs, but we are responsible to take care of those gifts, too. We are free to use the power the river offers us, and accept it as a good gift from a good heavenly Father; but right stewardship of God's creation also means that we need to work to ensure that another of God's good gifts, the fish that also make use of the river, remain for future generations to enjoy.

For more on the fish ladder:
City of Whitehorse Photos
Whitehorse Fishway

More on chinook salmon:
Chinook Salmon