Bristol Bay Salmon Camp: ‘Can We Eat The Fin?’

Every summer BBEDC holds salmon camps for middle school and high school kids from CDQ communities. It’s a mix of a little fun and little education on the region’s number one renewable resource, salmon. The junior camp kids paid a visit to the counting tower station on the Wood River.

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Jamie Westnegee shows salmon camps students who Fish and Game measures and records salmon as they return upstream to spawn. Credit Matt Martin/KDLG
Jamie Westnegee shows salmon camps students who Fish and Game measures and records salmon as they return upstream to spawn.
Credit Matt Martin/KDLG

“Now look at this fish, this is a sockeye salmon.”

Jamie Westnegee holds up the fish to a group of camp kids wearing chest high waders. They’re all standing around a live-box full of sockeye in the Wood River.

“Do you know if it a male or a female?”

“Female!”

Westnegee has been working at counting towers for three years. He gets help from his colleague Kim Powell as he show the kids how Fish and Game tracks salmon as they move upriver to spawn.

“So what we are going to do, hold that right there, we’re going to measure the fish and Kim’s going to pull a scale right off the back.”

He tells the kids the scales of a fish are like a birth certificate. It tells the biologist the age of the salmon and how long it’s been in the ocean.

Westnegee says the day the campers come to the counting tower is an important part of learning about the lifecycle of salmon.

“The education of very sustainable natural resource that we have here and emphasizing to the kids so as they grow older they can pass on these traditions of fishing and education to their young as well.”

Once Westnegee is finished measuring the fish, Powell cuts off a small fin towards the tail of the fish, known as the adipose fin. It’s a marker so the biologists make sure to not test the same fish twice. And that lead a few kids to ask a very scientific question.

Laci Andrew and Theresa Savo show off the adipose fins of some sockeye salmon they bravely tried to eat. Credit Chloe George
Laci Andrew and Theresa Savo show off the adipose fins of some sockeye salmon they bravely tried to eat.
Credit Chloe George

“Can we eat the fin?”

“You have to eat it with me.”

With pinched noses, the two girls threw the fins in their mouths.

And as quickly as the fins were in their mouths, they were spit out on the ground.

This group is the youngest of three different age groups that make up the salmon camps. As the kids get older they learn more and more about salmon, leading to the high school kids working on research projects and cam get college credit for the camp.

“It’s not just a camp where you split fish all day. It’s a camp where you actually get out there and go do stuff, and have fun, and learn about marine biology which is pretty cool.”

Mackenzie Amay, an 11 year old camper from Dillingham, wants to be a marine biologist. She says knows a lot more about salmon than she did before the camp.

“I’ve learned where certain parts of the body are and what their names are. I can recognize all the five different salmon species in Bristol Bay now.”

Karl Clark is one of the camp supervisors and he says that is exactly the purpose of the camps.

“What we like to do with this younger group is to give them an overview of salmon all the way from art projects through the commercial industry, subsistence, sport fish, so we kind of give them little projects on each of them.”

Clark just wants to make sure that the kids get a full picture of ways they can interact with salmon in the region.

“We want to show them how many jobs are out there that they could do with salmon and different projects they could do with fish. So that’s what we look at and try to get them hooked into something they might want to do when they grow up.”

Back out by the live-box in the river, Westnegee and Powell have finished up all their measurements and are ready to help the kids release the fish to continue their upstream journey.

“Just touch it and let it go very gently into the water. And then it goes on its way.”

Little Mckenzie Amay is sold. She says she’ll be coming back to salmon camp every year for as long as she can.