I went to an island south of Juneau to do a site assessment for a potential shellfish farm. The jobsite leaders set out a grid on a beach at low tide, identified a transect to sample, then myself and others on the trip began digging at the sample sites, putting clams we found in a bag for later identification and measurement. Three students from UAS joined us, and they were excellent workers and travel mates.

The next day, I traveled with the crew north to see an oyster farm. When we arrived at the site, the farmer’s name somehow rang a bell. It then hit me that this might be the brother in law of a friend who lives a thousand miles west of Juneau’s wife’s first husband. And in true Alaskan fashion – it was. We had another great day learning the oyster trade with them. The oysters are held in square mesh boxes, stacked 8 boxes high, and hung from a floating raft, where the oysters can eat plankton. A small winch on rollers moved on an I beam that extended from the floathouse dock out over the water. The raft with the oyster boxes was moved in position so that the winch could pick them. The farmer lifted the boxes with the winch, then moved the winch back to the floathouse dock. We then dismantled the units box by box, pouring the oysters in each into a sorter. The sorter was simply a piece of large drain pipe with the sides replaced by varying
sizes of wire mesh, tilted downhill. The pipe turned by a small motor with a belt, and when oysters were poured down the tube, they would tumble until the mesh was large enough one to fall through into a tub. Ones too large for any of the mesh went all the way to the bottom into a tub. Similar sized oysters were loaded into the boxes, which will provide better growth then mixed sizing in a box. The whole unit is cleaned, put back together and dropped back onto the raft, and then another box cluster pulled. The work was physical labor but not arduous.

I drove back to where I was staying, arriving about 7 pm. After dinner we had an offer to hop on a boat trolling with fishing poles for king salmon in front of the residence. On the next pass – bang! – a nice king hit the hootchie and flasher combo. They handed the rod to me as the out-of-towner, and we landed the fish. We ate part of it the next evening, and the rest of it back here in Juneau.

On the last day, I worked with the local fish hatchery staff. I first took a tour of the facility, and went over the adult fish sales situation with the manager. Then I assisted the crew in transferring king salmon smolts from their hatchery freshwater ponds to saltwater net pens.

Mark Stopha
Alaska Wild Salmon Company
4455 N. Douglas Hwy
Juneau, AK 99801