The Formal Way of Looking at the Project History
(with the informal one after)
The project site at Rapids has probably been a subsistence fish wheel site since fish wheels came to the Yukon (around 1900). Traditionally, the particular bend in the river where this site is located has always been well known for its ability to consistently produce good catches of fish, Chinook as well as chum salmon, whether the water was high or low. Because of the unique currents in the Rapids, fish wheels are capable of being run there even during the spring drift that happens at the same time as the Chinook salmon run. Traditionally, people would travel to the Rapids area to spend their summers because of these qualities. Even today it is one of the most densely populated active fish camp areas on the Yukon River.
Fish wheels are commonly used as a capture method for management and research activities in large, turbid Alaskan and Canadian rivers (Meehan 1961; Milligan et al. 1985, 1986; Merritt and Roberson 1986; Link and English 1996). Specifically, fish wheels have provided CPUE data, catch statistics on run-timing and relative abundance at various locations. This information is used mainly for in-season management of Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus species, including Yukon River salmon species (Vania et al. 2002). Also, fish wheels are used to capture and hold fish for tagging studies. Most of these fish wheels continue to use live boxes to hold fish until the researchers or contractors process and release the fish.
Crowding and holding times greater than four hours are common and a growing body of data suggests delayed mortality and reduced traveling rates are associated with holding, crowding, and/or repeated recapture (Bromaghin and Underwood 2003, 2004; Bromaghin et al. 2004; Underwood et al. 2004). Cleary (2003) concluded that fish captured by a fish wheel showed a measurable physiological effect from handling and tagging.
The cumulative negative impact to fish populations from management and research fish wheel projects could be significant. In 2005 alone, approximately 275,000 salmon were caught and released from fish wheel projects in the Yukon River drainage (B. Borba and P. Cleary, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, personal communication, Tanana and Kantishna rivers; P. Milligan, Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, personal communication, Yukon River main stem, Canada).
From 1996 to 2005 (present) the site has been used to run fish wheels for the Rampart Rapids fall chum salmon tagging project (Apodaca et al. 2004). During these ten years the site fish wheel operated without any down days or days when data were compromised. In 1997, 1998 and 1999 a fall chum radio-tagging project was conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service at this site. During the first year of operation the radio tag project became aware of a possible problem with live box held chum salmon. This problem was studied in 1998 and 1999 and project results (not yet published) showed a significant negative effect on fish held in the live box for 4 to 6 hour (J. Eiler, National Marine Fisheries Service, personal communication).
In 1999, the fish wheel operator at Rapids was supplied with a satellite phone from the USFWS, Fisheries Resources Office in Fairbanks and called in daily subsistence Chinook salmon CPUE data to the ADF&G. In the fall of 1999, a development project was undertaken at this site to address the increasing concerns over live box held fish and devise an alternative method of monitoring catch using video (Zuray and Underwood 1999). Video technology, as an alternative to live boxes, avoids all of the handling and live box crowding issues by eliminating the use of live boxes altogether. Video systems have been used in counting windows at dams in the Columbia River basin for several years (Hatch et al. 1998). These systems have proved to be efficiently able to provide accurate counts. They have however been designed for use in developed areas where standard power is available and environmental variables are easily controlled. To transfer this technology to a fish wheel on the Yukon River, it was necessary to deal with many problems that did not exist in prior applications of this technology.
A video capture system was developed that had low DC power requirements. The system used an analog CCD camera, mounted above the fish wheel chute. As fish slide down the fish wheel chute, they were recorded to a time-lapse VCR in 12-hour recording mode. The fish images were then extracted from the VCR tape and digitized using Salmonsoft video capture software. Fish were tallied by species and CPUE data were generated (see the methods section of Zuray and Underwood 1999 for a detailed description of the video methods). Also, a specially built fish wheel was used that had many features designed to reduce possible injury to fish. The USFWS Fairbanks Field Office was directly involved in the development and support of the Rapids CPUE video project in 1999.
In 2000, a Chinook and fall chum salmon CPUE video project was funded at the Rapids site by the Restoration and Enhancement Fund (Zuray 2000a and Zuray 2000b). Also, catches of sheefish, humpback whitefish, broad whitefish and cisco spp. were monitored. The Chinook and fall chum salmon video projects were run both years without any live box held fish released back into the river and were the first projects of this kind ever run.
From 2001 to 2003 the USFWS Office of Subsistence Management funded operation of the Chinook salmon video project (Zuray 2003). The 2001 to 2003 Office of Subsistence Management project was a mating of the need for run timing and assessment data and the use of video capture as a means of producing data in a way much less harmful to fish. Restoration and Enhancement Fund moneys continued to fund fall chum salmon video projects in 2001 and 2002 (Zuray 2002a and Zuray 2002c).
In 2004 and 2005 the Restoration and Enhancement Fund funded the Chinook and fall chum salmon full season video project at the Rapids. As requested by the Yukon River Panel this project provided monitoring of the whole season for all species present.
The Informal Project History With Pictures and Mostly True Comments
By Stan Zuray
Monty Millard (right) worked for the USFWS in Fairbanks and was the big boss, although once in a while someone was bigger. One day in 1994 he traveled the Yukon River looking for someone to run fishwheels for a new salmon Tagging project his office wanted to run. Monty was a friend and good guy, old school and said what he thought (unless the bigger guys were there). He's gone now.
Finally he met Stan Zuray a fishwheel fisherman/dog musher/trapper (a bum in other words) after talking to alot of people. Stan said he'd do it and so started years of Monty and Stan giving each other a hard time. Stan can be a real jerk.
Tevis Underwood (yellow rain pants and at cutting table) ran the Rampart Rapids Tagging project from 1998 to 2003 and worked for the USFWS. Monty was his boss. Pretty soon after taking over he started to notice problems with tagged fish and the way they dropped out of the catches upriver, progressively more as the distance increased. Anyway this started a whole bunch of testing and some controversy as often things like this are swept under the rug. In 1998 Tevis asked Stan if he would be interested in trying to develop with him some sort of a way to take pictures or video of the salmon instead of holding them in live boxes till they were counted. So that makes him the "Father of Fishwheel Video" I'd say.
So the two convinced the Yukon River Panel to give them money for the next year. In 1999 Tevis kept sending Stan out to the fishwheel with these terrible cameras to try and get them to work and they had a hell of a time. He'd go away to Fairbanks on business and show Stan how to turn on this computer and it was interesting, but by the end of the summer they had more accurate counts than the livebox method and nice video. Tevis taught Stan to write reports and convinced him to start his own project showing him how to apply for funding. He helped Stan start the student data project also which just finished it's 5th year. He's an ethical guy that was respected by the fishermen for his openness and honesty.
Funny but True Story: Towards the end of this first video year Tevis thought Stan should start writing his report that Stan thought he'd write later some time. Tevis said Stan could use his laptop to take over to his camp instead of using a paper and pen like Stan wanted. Tevis said it had a fully charged battery and would last 5 hours at which time a noise would happen saying the battery was dying. He wrote out real specific instructions on how to save what Stan had wrote to that point and how to shut down. Tevis showed him how to turn the laptop on and Stan left for his camp. After 5 hours of working in Microsoft Word the noise happened and Stan saved and shut down. He had gotten alot done. His name and address were at the top of the first and only page and just below that the word "Introduction". At some times in those 5 hours He had had part of a first sentence also but kept losing it somehow. Things have gotten better - hope you like the web site.
Back to the History, and enter Dave Daum.
Monty put Dave in charge of helping Stan with computers and video for his new 2000 video project as Tevis was really to busy running the Tagging project. Dave had come from Chandalar sonar project and had proved he knew his stuff. He was a troublemaker like Stan so they made a good pair. Actually when it came to video Dave was like a dog after a bone and he worked with the software company on improving the fishwheel capture and review program and put together some complex electronic stuff. He transferred what they had put together at Rapids to 3 other fishwheel sites in the Yukon Drainage. Dave is still Stan's partner in crime and they are quietly working on newer and better at this very moment. Dave is the "Son of Fishwheel Video".
This story all leaves out people like Brian Lubinski (Tag project leader) the guy who would not accepted that the original Tagging project "could not be done" in 1996. And of course those techs who helped in the early rough days like Randy Brown (world renowned whitefish researcher), Jon Moreland (the worker), Sandy Murley, Riley Morris (the fisherman), Rod Simmons, Judy Gordon, Jeff Melegari, and Pete Anselmo (he got mad cause National Geographic took Stan's picture instead of his).
That's the history of the project in a peanut shell except for my wonderful wife and family that have worked with me and put up with me all these years.