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So Long and Thanks for All the Fish1

October 24, 2013

Rounding up the salmon for separation by size.

Rounding up the salmon for separation by size.

For months I tried to imagine what it would be like to leave the hatchery, to say good bye to the almost one million babies that I had cared for since they were just fry, less than an inch long. When I left last week, the salmon that would be  remaining in the pools through the winter were as long as 7 inches. Big kids!

For weeks, in preparation for setting free the smaller parr, we had been hand feeding the young salmon three times a day alongside the 100 pound mechanical food dispersers that fling food off and on all day long.

The threat of a government shut down loomed increasingly large over everyone’s head. As we fed, the tempo of grading and separating the fish for distribution increased with each passing day. Could everything that needed to be done to save the fish be accomplished in time?So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

Every day tanker trucks filled with tens of thousands of parr drove north to place the young fish into their home river streams to grow. Setting free the smaller parr: At release, thousands of young fish travel down a pipe from the tanks and enter a  shallow, gravely stream. Out of the rushing water they leap and fly...up into the sun. All around, autumn leaves shine scarlet and gold through the evergreens. Time for things to end. They have come home to a place they do not know, but will always remember. Carefully created by the fishery biologists, their genes know they have arrived.

By September 30, 214,000  of the smaller parr had been distributed into the northern streams and tributaries of the Penobscot River. The next morning, the Republicans shut down the United States Government. Early on the morning of October 1, we came in with the hatchery biologists and technicians to top off the feeders for the remaining 556,000 smolts and put up the Closed for the Duration of the Federal Shutdown signs. Then we were all sent away.

One person was allowed to check each day during the closure to make sure the water was flowing and the feeders were electronically feeding the remaining larger smolts. The law allowed for the minimum maintenance of life only.

Gravel patch kids at home in their historic birthplace

Gravel patch kids at home in their historic birthplace.

In spite of the shutdown, the night before we left “the fish culture gang” threw a private, fun and yummy dinner party for us! We were “showered” with gifts... think Maine distilled Vodka, Folding Gerber Tool set, Maine blueberry delicacies, homemade jellies and baked goods... It was when the party was over that the real sadness and sense of lost set in. We had worked side by side with these very special, colorful and unique people for five months. They would continue with their work to save the Endangered Atlantic Sea-Run Salmon, and we would go away.

Farewell..."you princes of Maine, you kings of New England."2

1 Douglas Adams
2 John Irving, Cider House Rules

Thanks, It was great to work and play with you guys. The video and photographs are great, enjoyed the writing


Once again you brought a tear to my eye…not sad…just wistful! So wonderful and delicious – the lives you are leading! It’s such a treat to know you guys!

Fish and Fisher

Beautiful! Both the pictures and the story---How human -and piscatorial--relationships are formed--Loved hearing about the whole adventure--hard work and all--I admire your stick-to-it-iveness! thanks!


Impressive. I especially liked the brief moment in the video when the water flow stopped and even reversed a bit. i was yellling "No! Forward, ye fish!"


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