Borrego Springs, CA

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Why were you sorting salmon eggs?

A couple of commenters wanted to know why I was sorting through salmon eggs one at a time.  What was I looking for?  I appreciate those questions.  It gave me the topic for tonight’s blog post.  :)  Bandon State Fish Hatchery, in Oregon, is a very precise operation when it comes to salmon eggs!  They provide viable eggs for hatcheries throughout the state.
IMG_0222And this is the building where all the action happens.  It is located along a river that empties directly into the Pacific Ocean, and the salmon make their way up stream to spawn.  The hatchery catches them on a fish ladder, harvests the eggs and milt, and mixes them together in this building.
IMG_0223These are the incubators.  There is a constant flow of river water through these incubators.  I think the temperature of the water is a constant 45*, but sometimes I forget those little details.  Suffice it to say, that the inside of the building isn’t what you would call warm.  :)
IMG_0224Each of these trays in the incubator contain hundreds of eggs.  Notice that they are not all a healthy pink color.
IMG_0216After being in the incubator for a certain amount of days, each tray is taken out and poured into this machine.  Take note of the screen on the right, that’s where we do the sorting.
 IMG_0218As the eggs go through this machine, a laser light kicks out the obviously cream colored rotten eggs, and shoots out the rest into this holding tank.  My job was to scoop out a bunch of eggs with a strainer, and then go through each one individually looking for the beginnings of that opaque cloudiness.  The other thing that we had to do was check how many eyes each egg had.  Yes, that’s right!  A good egg has two eyes (black dots), but some eggs would have three or more, and that means they weren’t viable.  The less than perfect eggs were put into a separate strainer for disposal.  Since I was the only volunteer that December, I was often the only one sorting eggs.

Lest you think this was a totally boring procedure, picture this:  Occasionally, I would dip out too large a scoop of eggs, and as I poured them onto the screen they would overflow and some would drop to the floor.  I’m sure you’ve seen those super bouncy balls?  Well, salmon eggs do the same thing!  I’d be running around trying to catch those bouncing eggs, and giggling all the way.  Can’t waste those eggs, you know, and then someone would shout down from the offices above and ask “Is everything all right?”  And I’d respond, “ Oh, yes, everything’s under control!”  :)
IMG_0226Here’s a tray of sorted eggs.  See that measuring cup on the left?  After all the eggs were sorted, then we had to count them!  One of the staff would come down, and we’d both count a cup of eggs at a time.  We did this three times in a row to determine the average count.  That guy could sure count fast!  Then the good eggs were measured out back into the trays and put back in the incubators.  I believe I sorted and counted over a half million eggs while I was there.  What an unusual thing to have on one’s resume.  :)

It was a real hoot to be there for a month, and I really learned a lot about salmon fish culture.  I think I’d do it again, but only for a month.  :)

Thanks for stopping by….talk to you later,  Judy      


  1. Is this anything like stacking BBs? Seems like it might be just as tedious! How in the world have the salmon survived without us to separate and count the eggs? No, I'm just kidding. I grew up visiting the fish hatcheries in Missouri so I do know how important it is...glad someone has the patience to do this!
    You never cease to amaze me!

  2. I now know more than I thought possible about fish eggs. I have to admit I had a good chuckle thinking about you chasing those eggs around. :)

    Thanks for the smile

  3. I guess nobody would want to eat a three or four eyed salmon :) Do people eat the eggs like caviar, too? Would dropping them and having them bounce around damage them? Darn it, Judy! Now I have more questions than when you started this thing! LOL!

  4. I would have never in the world thought to apply for a volunteer job at a fish hatchery, but you make it sound fascinating and so worthwhile. I need to expand my horizons!

  5. Great pics & commentary of the fish hatchery. You sure have a lot of patience. That job would have held my attention for about 5 minutes. Were you able to slip a few dozen eggs in your pocket for a little fish egg sandwich when you got home?

  6. What an interesting side of the fish industry,something I had never heard of before, You have the patience of a saint. Say hi to Emma from Rigg's, he is pineing now that he isn't meeting new friend's everyday.Be safe out there. Sam & Donna.

  7. Love your fish hatchery description. Real interesting on how all those eggs are harvested.

    Read this today, not sure how close you are to this area but FYI.

  8. Very interesting, who knew. Thanks for sharing

  9. That job sounds very interesting although very tedious.
    I think it was nice that you could do one month...we were talking to the volunteer director at Wolf Creek Fish Hatchery and she would only do 3 months. We haven't been able to block 3 months in our plans yet. I wish others would be willing to do 1 month.
    Yes, the vision of you chasing salmon eggs bouncing around on the floor is funny. :-)

    Mike & Gerri (happytrails)

  10. Amazing! I have never seen the process before! What a great post on sorting salmon eggs. Very interesting.

    Thanks for your comment and question on the 'Links you may also like' ~ yes it is one of those gadgets (or widgets).

  11. I might be good for a week or so. Do three eyed eggs make three eyed salmon?

  12. Wow...how cool! You know, I think I would like to do that! All those wee baby salmon...Judy, thought of you this evening. Looks like a solo lady with a dog pulled in across the lane from us in a Class B (I think). Anyhoo, made me think of you and Emma, roaming the country. :)
    Your story, as fascinating as it is, makes me kinda glad we're not having salmon for dinner tomorrow...giggle.