Friday was a bright, beautiful start to the 67th Golden North Salmon Derby. In the sunny afternoon, fishermen showed off their catches at weigh-in stations as volunteers talked happily to one another, logging salmon measurements on little pieces of paper. But the derby isn’t solely for the pursuit of fun. Fish biologist Diane Tersteeg attended in the pursuit of science.
Tersteeg works for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, and was this year posted at the Auke Bay weigh-in station, collecting samples from the fish that came in with the boats. She collected scales from about a third of the caught king salmon in order to later determine the age of the fish and its genetic makeup. At 2:30 p.m., she was dealing with her first king.
“Scales on a fish grow kind of like rings on a tree,” Tersteeg explained as she collected some of the shimmering scales.
Fish & Game tests genetics in order to determine which stock each fish comes from, Tersteeg said. She also collected tagged king and coho salmon, denoted by a clipped adipose fin. These tagged fish will later lose their heads so scientists can extract the wire marker from their noses, she said.
Tags are used to determine where the fish came from.
“It gives us more of an idea of how the stocks are doing,” Tersteeg said. “We use it to keep track of wild stocks to see how they’re coming back.”
Despite the technical nature of her job Friday, Tersteeg said she was having fun.
“I used to be out in the field all the time,” she said. She’s worked for Fish & Game for nine years. “I worked my way into the office so it’s nice to touch fish again. I’m an outdoors girl.”
The more traditional derby-goers were also out in full force. Boats peppered the water around Shelter Island, where Dick Garrison, who has fished in every derby since the beginning, trolled with Jackie Timothy and David Timothy, who proudly displayed a sizable fish.
As of 3 p.m. Friday, 196 participants had been validated at the Douglas Harbor weigh-in station. Eight-time derby volunteer Kevin Flannagan said that’s more than the Douglas Harbor location usually validates on the first day. It’s also way better weather than usual, he said.
“This is the best summer I’ve seen in 12 years,” Flannagan said.