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Today started off as any other day – a treasure hunt for my undies, a groggy walk home and a trip to Planned Parenthood. Wait … I’m not in college anymore.

I made it to work, injected some coffee, checked some shipping documents and ran some production numbers. I was all juiced up on Longliner Blend beans and thinking of busting out of there when Ms. Ashley came to me with a proposition.

“Hey – you want to go jerk off some fish?” she wondered. I checked my day planner and seeing nothing written in blue, black or even red ink on either of my hands, I told her, “Weeeeeell. I don’t know. I have some important things lined up today.”

I thought about the floofy couch, rain falling on the metal roof of the cabin and the giant HD TeeVee. “Yeah. Pretty booked up,” I thought.

But Ashley has a way with squeezing neck muscles and reducing you to a primal sea cucumber who will agree to anything as long as the positive stimulation continues. (Don’t worry if that analogy doesn’t make sense – just let it flow with the marine theme). Also she said there was a work-logo sweatshirt and hat in it for anyone who volunteered. Hmmm. Could make for blog fodder. Free merchandise? Ok. Goddammit. Where are my rain pants?

I found my rain gear stuffed away on El Gato Negro and headed down town in the heavy rain and many-mile-per-hour winds with five other brave salmon saviours. Here then is the process of making salmon babies – a study in pictures.

(Setting: SJ Hatchery / Aquarium in Sitka (such a cool place – go there!). Scene: A dark and stormy afternoon):

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Ash, Frannie, Jian and Cherylanne ready to make babies. SJ worker in yellow. Tourists with umbrellas.

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These pink salmon (10 female: 6 male per net take … Hooratios!) are lifted from the raceways and dunked into this grey tote of clove oil mixture to sleep with the fishes. Well – mostly to suffocate and die quickly. But don’t worry, nature folk; dying is part of the natural mating routine of salmon.

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Any dead fish yet? We’re bored; Oh damn you guys and your icredible speed; Finally – a full table ready to become a bucket of pink salmon babies.

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With the female salmon, you take this hook/razor, plug the anus with the hook (if not, eggs will drop out all over the floor when you lift her) then slit from anus to collar to the right of the pelvic fins. Most of the eggs will drop out down the chute. The others you gently massage out of the body cavity. Yum!

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Frannie and I milt milking. The white on the front of the bucket is milt (salmon sperm).

The males are a little less complicated. You hold them with the anus pointing toward the bucket then stroke a few times back and forth until you expend the supply of white milky milt.

It then looks like this:

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Load on eggs

A few moments of hand mixing, and it looks like this:

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A bit of brine is added and swished around, then the eggs are rinsed twice to clear blood and debris. Finally they are dumped out of the bucket and into an incubator tank which will maintain consistent temperature, water flow and salinity until the little baby fishies hatch up.

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I believe in you, Tank 7 Babies. Don’t let your parents’ death be in vain.

Our hatchery friend Dan told us we were the fastest fish fertilizers he’d ever seen, which I suppose shouldn’t be surprising from an elite processing super team.

What we didn’t expect, however, when we set out in the rain to do fish work for free was that we’d have a lot of fun. No joke. Roe-n-Milt ’09 was off the hook. If you are in Sitka or plan to visit any late summer, you too can play salmon god. The next egg take is this Saturday August 29 with a midday barbecue. All volunteers are welcome; raingear is advised.

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Happy Roe-n-Milt friends Jessie and Ashley;

Pizza tastes waaaaay better after you’ve been gutting and milking salmon all afternoon.

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