The little girl said a prayer over her fish before she released it into the Pacific Ocean. The baby coho, part of the Sitka Sound Science Center Hatchery class of 2023, had begun it two year Odyssey around the Pacific with a splash. If it survives, it will return in 2025.
The baby fish, who have been living in the fresh water of the protected hatchery for a year have eyes that look impossibly big for the size of the fish. If those eyes could read they would see signs of encouragement along the wall of the Mill Building next to the beach.
“Long may you Run!”
“Just Keep Swimming”
“See You Later”
“Don’t forget who you are and where you came from.”
“Best Fishes, Class of ‘23”
And more ominously.
“RSVP to Dinner, 2025.”
Sitka celebrates it cycles of season. On Friday the Sitka Sound Science Center hatchery held its annual salmon release party. The hatchery had released most of the baby coho two weeks ago but they saved some for the party.
Coho spawn in the late summer and fall and spend the first year of their lives after hatching in fresh water. They head to salt water in the spring. They will feed for two years and then return to their stream to spawn and start the cycle again.
The release party is a community event, kids, parents and seniors all take “their” fish to the beach and release it. The dress of the participants reflects the dress of Sitkans. There were kids in t-shirts and shorts, teens in hip waders, adults in Carharts, Hellys and Grunions and two Mormon missionaries in ties with plastic tags identifying them as “elder” even though, like the fish, they are barely at the start of their journeys.
Everyone stood patiently on-line as the Science Center Staff fished the fish out of a yellow tote with a red net and put them into a plastic container. Each person takes their fish and walks down to the beach.
The incoming waves washed a few fish back onshore. Folks took them gently by the tail and tossed them back. A fish washes up on a rock and someone in XtraTuffs wades out to rescue the stranded baby.
After the joyous release there is a warm bonfire, hot dogs and the makings of s’mores sitting on a table.