Fish Hatchery–Spawning Time


You might be from the Pacific Northwest if your idea of a good time is getting up early and driving out to the Fish Hatchery to watch them sort Salmon. Hens from the Bucks. Greens from the 4th years and up.

Four Fish and Wildlife Workers and two volunteer teen boys stand waist deep in the center section of the Salmon tanks.  A quick cold gloveless hand reaches down to grab the salmon just above the tail. The other hand smoothly reaches under the fish head for a quick inspection – Boy or Girl? Ready to Spawn or Wait a while? Classification at it’s wettest for sure. Tossing the fish in 5 different areas to keep them separated.

We started watching around 9 in the morning, it took them 2 hours to go through hundreds of fish, keeping about 25 hens and 25 bucks.


The boys were invited by the teen in the black hat. He is on our Tigersharks 4H Surf Team. They’ve been following him as he catches salmon each day on the banks of the Salmon River. His brother in the Orange let us know how they got started, by hanging out, and then filling out volunteer forms. They’ve been coming each Tuesday during Spawning Season to volunteer.  We left around 12 – and they were STILL in the water sorting fish. Cray boys. Our kind of crazy!



Once they’ve sorted the fish ready for spawning into two large crates, each salmon is taken out, konked on the head, and then left to wait until his fins are relaxed, fish all the way deceased.

There is a tiny tracker in each hatchery fish, and they have a very cool machine to take the front of the head off of each salmon.  My camera was glitching so I don’t have photos of each step – some pretty gruesome anyway.  They take off the portion of the head and take a sample of the scales. The scales help the scientists know the condition of the waters and the environments that the salmon have lived in.

IMG_0088The females were laid out on a table that looked like a pallet with grooves that fit 5-6 fish in to rest. A quick cut by the tail helps the fish bleed out so that there is less blood when the eggs are harvested.  Once the fins are rested and fish is ready – they have a hook type knife to slide up the fish.  You instantly see how ready to spawn the fish is by how the eggs drop out, dark red, separated, quick flow. The photo below is of the only fish of the day that was harvested a bit early.  There was sorrow on the entire deck from all of the workers for this poor hen. Her eggs were very tight together, lighter color, not ready for fertilization.



Each female has her eggs deposited into a 5 gallon bucket with a bag liner. They are kept separate per hen.  The male fish are being milked for their sperm in little dixie cups. The boys got to help with that part.  One male salmon’s cup is poured into one female’s baggie of eggs.  The bag is then picked up and mixed by hand. 


75 ounces of fertilized eggs are put into a tray filled with water, after a squirt of idodine.  We were told that they are instantly starting to grow as soon as the fertilized eggs touch the water. 

The photo to the right shows the bins, taken from our Field Trip about 3 years ago. We learned that one male salmon is capable of fertilizing the entire Columbia River. He’d be tired, and require a Tardis to do it, but it is possible.

We had a great time observing, they were excited to answer our questions, and we got to chat it up with a homeschool friend that lives at the hatchery. We had Biology 101 scheduled for today – and wondered after the ‘makin babies’ time of the morning if that would count for Biology for the day – She said no. She still had to do her day’s studies. I’ll give you one guess at what our Plan Biology was for today? Reproduction you say? Yep. Nate says that he’s had his fill of “baby makin” talk for the day. Ha.

About +Angie Wright

The Transparent Thoughts of an Unschooling Family of Boys - Answering the question - What DO you DO all day?
This entry was posted in Some Schooling and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Fish Hatchery–Spawning Time

  1. Anonymous says:

    hi – I am hoping for some advice as I am bringing a group there in November to see the “spawning” process 🙂
    We’ll be there from about 9:30am-12 – will we get to see all of the different processes during that time? or is everyone involved in the wrangling during the first part of the day and then move into the lab for slicing and mixing?
    Thanks for any insight – and I appreciate all of you pics and notes!

    • pebblekeeper says:

      The day we were there, they did it all at once. Sorting the different ages of fish – and pulling the ones for spawning, took the longest amount of time. If you have littles, I will assume they will tire quickly. It might be a good time to tour the building, have a breakfast snack, etc. The spawning process is all at once, many things happening all at the same time. You’ll want to contact the hatchery to make an appointment and know when it is happening.

  2. Pingback: Fish Hatchery–Virtual Field Trip | Petra School

I love to hear from my readers, I appreciate comments!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s