Why I Serve at the Salmon Center

By Joanie Fieser

“What kind of fish are you going to put in there?” A little girl asks, pointing to the aquarium my supervisor and I are setting up in the hallway of Quilcene Elementary School. “Goldfish?”

Between her innocent inquiry and my excitement for the answer, I crack a smile. “Salmon!” I tell her, delighted by my first interaction with a Salmon in the Classroom student. A slightly confused but eager smile spreads across her face. In that moment, I see a tiny difference being made. Here is one child curious for one moment about salmon, a fish with deep history and profound importance here in Washington. Indeed, these fish are the impetus for the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group! This tiny difference– a smile, a moment of curiosity– makes me wonder what difference could unfold over the course of my term.

Joanie, AmeriCorps Environmental Educator, waits for Salmon in the Classroom students to count down before sprinkling salmon eggs into the aquarium tank at their school.

So far, my AmeriCorps term has consisted of many things, including weeding the Salmon Center’s organic U-Pick garden; monitoring threatened summer chum in the Union River; contributing to the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee; hosting a Healthy Habits and Habitats workshop for kids; and integrating Since Time Immemorial concepts into educational programming. Above all, the core program I help run is Salmon in the Classroom. So far, my fellow AmeriCorps environmental educators and I have presented the first of three Salmon in the Classroom presentations to over 140 elementary schoolers around the Hood Canal.

Joanie, AmeriCorps Environmental Educator, poses with a pink salmon at the Union River Summer Chum monitoring trap. This year, 3,912 summer chums (and 135 pinks) returned to the Union River. The increase in returning chum since the early 2000s is attributed to the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group’s Union River estuary restoration and chum supplementation projects.

A few weeks after setting up the tank, my supervisor and I returned to Quilcene to deliver salmon eggs. A chorus of kindergarten voices cue me to sprinkle the eggs into the tank: “Five! Four! Three! Two! One!” I gingerly tip the container over the tank, allowing the pinkish orange orbs to tumble into the cool, clean water. We watch them land delicately on the bed of gravel. The next time my team visits Quilcene, the eggs will have hatched into alevins, already starting to absorb their plump yolk sacs. Eventually, the kids will release the young fish into a nearby stream.

These school visits allow me to share my passion about our relationship with our planet. Recently, I gave what I think has been my best presentation yet to a class of third graders. The kids’ excellent listening and engagement encouraged me to lean into the storytelling of it all. I left their classroom refreshed in my decision to be an AmeriCorps member with HCSEG. I am here because I want people (kids and grown-ups!) to know that they belong in this fascinating world, and that we all have a responsibility to take care of it. I want to instill hope and encourage connection between humans and our environment. I am grateful to say that, so far, the Salmon Center has been an opportune place to do this work.