Kids get into fish — guts and all — at Fisheries camp

Woodland Creek Park in Lacey was filled with the smell of fish Tuesday morning. Kids ran around with radio-telemetry equipment or blue gloves covered with sticky slime.

The ruckus was caused by 13 kids participating in a Youth Fisheries Academy Day Camp, hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, which taught the children about conservation sciences and different species of fish.

“We want to give these kids kind of a day in the life of a biologist; exposure to what the professionals do,” camp director Dan Spencer said. “We’re trying to foster the next generation of conservation advocates and professionals.”

The kids rotated through four learning stations, each experience lasting 45 minutes to an hour. The stations covered fish identification and health, fish anatomy and physiology, fish and wildlife technology, and stream sampling.

The technology station featured the real equipment scientists use to track and study fish. The kids played hide-and-seek with radio-telemetry tracking devices — one group, playing the salmon, would take the tracking collar and the other group would seek them.

There also was geocaching and practice with GPS, demonstrating how the scientists mark their study sites.

The fish anatomy and physiology station was a dissection lab led by Spencer. He first discussed the importance of knowing the inside and outside of the species a scientist is studying.

He used adult coho and chum salmon to show the different parts of the fish viewable from the outside. He quizzed the kids on the different fins and body parts, and the kids eagerly raised their hands to answer every question.

He explained how the scales act as armor, how the slime coating protects the fish from diseases, and how the males use their teeth to fight for territory.

Then he cut the fish open and demonstrated how to remove each organ as well as the fish’s gills and eyes.

In pairs, the kids then got to try it on their own with rainbow trout. Bonus points were given for removal of the eye lens.

Shouts filled the air: “I got this!”

“Ew, what is that?”

“I’m gonna grab this tongue.”

“We found the brain!”

“Looks like we’ve got some future biologists here,” Spencer said.

Spencer began the program in 2010. Each camp hosts between 10 and 20 kids, and takes place in Lacey or Olympia parks. Some programs send him as far out as Neah Bay, and some dissection labs bring him into local classrooms.

The trout used are purchased from the Nisqually Trout Farm and the adult salmon come from the National Fish Hatchery on the Olympic Peninsula. The hatchery fish are frozen after spawning, used for educational activities such as the dissection lab, and then composted.

Spencer remembers struggling with science in middle school and said hands-on activities can help kids make connections with important topics.

“It’s really exciting watching the kids get into it,” he said.