July 3, 2008 · Updated 4:20 PM
They went looking for a new chum to hang out with. Maybe a pink or a coho while theyre at it.
Four researchers from Washington Trout, a non-profit agency dedicated to research, restoration and advocacy for fish in their native habitat, spent Thursday near the Keystone ferry terminal searching for small fish.
They found them too. One net-full yielded approximately 2,000 tiny sticklebacks, which are the small fish seen in large schools near the beach.
But their real goal was to count, measure and weigh the different variety of salmonids that squirmed in the tank.
The crews are conducting the West Whidbey Juvenile Fish-Use Assessment.
We are looking at the different habitats that are preferred at different times of year, researcher Micah Wait said.
And what they found Thursday surprised them.
The number of salmon in the near-shore area was unexpected, Wait said.
The crew also found a fish that even the expert eyes could not identify. The tiny fish had a mouth almost as large as the rest of its still translucent body. The theory is that it is a type of sculpin.
Typically, the juvenile salmon would have moved to deeper water, seeking larger sources of food. But these young Coho, Pink and Chums have remained close to pocket estuaries such as Crockett Lake or Lake Hancock.
Some of the fish wont survive, which is intentional. The salmon that come from a hatchery are scanned for an implanted tracking tag. If they find one, the fishs head is pinched off and pickled in alcohol.
The tag will be analyzed to track its movements and see where the fish came from.
Which on Whidbey is just about everywhere, Wait said.
The state is funding the project, which will take the team all over Whidbey Island. By the end of the year, a report on the status of the habitats is expected.
Among the proposals the study could create would be to open the tide gates underneath the road at the ferry dock to Crockett Lake, researcher Thomas Buehrens said. This would allow salmon and other fish to venture into the estuary in search of invertebrates and other food.
It could be one of the most important salmon rearing lakes on Whidbey, Buehrens said.