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Coho Salmon Enhancement Project

Patty Vaughan

Type of Entry:

  • project

Type of Activity:

  • hands-on activity
  • authentic assessment
  • group/cooperative learning
  • community outreach/off-site
  • data analysis
  • career awareness
  • interdisciplinary learning
  • inquiry learning

Target Audience:

  • Life Science
  • Biology
  • Advance Biology
  • Integrated Science
  • Kids at Risk

Notes to Teacher:

My integrated class meets for 3 hours 4 days each week. Students work with our community's partners in education. Over the past three years, we have worked with 60 volunteers from 20 different agencies and businesses. We do this fisheries enhancement project with the assistance of Ed Tierney, a fisheries biologist from Quileute (Tribal) Natural Resources in La Push, WA. You need to contact state or federal fisheries departments in your area for assistance. We also obtained permission of two private landowners in order to work on their property. Since fish traps need to be checked each day, you may want to just build the trap and leave the daily monitoring work to the fisheries biologist, or send a pair of students out with the biologist each day. La Motte's Limnology Test Kit comes with a small booklet and procedures for each kit. Have students work in cooperative learning groups and practice in the classroom prior to the field trip. Each group needs to become an "expert" at a particular task or test. La Motte's also sells a Water Pollution Test Kit that has more chemical tests to perform. Nitrates and phosphates can be split up (they come in one kit) and assigned to two separate groups. Cooperative learning techniques that put students in groups of 3-4 work well. Students need tobe grouped by varying abilities. Keep accurate records of equipment and check items out to each group. Items such as ping pong balls and collecting bottles can get lost easily. Emphasize safety rules when using chemicals.

Required of students: #2 pencil and proper clothing for field work

Preparation time needed: varies based upon the amount of time required to get community assistance. Collecting materials and phone calls take 1-2 hours. Ordering equipment takes time, too. You may need to go out with the biologist to measure the stream channel and determine how much fencing material is needed.

Classroom time needed: Building the trap and collecting chemical and physical data requires one school day (6 hours). This may vary, based upon the number of students working, strength of students, number of adults working, and travel time to the stream. One class period should be allowed to introduce the chemical tests and practice. I teach an entire unit on fisheries (one quarter) which corresponds with the trapping and water quality studies. One class period should be allowed for assessment.


The purpose of measuring biological and chemical data of a stream or other body of water is to provide a connection between the classroom and the real world. The Coho Salmon Enhancement Project requires hands-on experimentation, cooperative and interdisciplinary learning, community involvement, data analysis, and career awareness Students will build a fish trap across a small stream. The purpose of the trap is to collect baseline data of Oncorhynchus kisutch, Coho salmon, smolt numbers coming out of a spring-fed pond. Other biological data will also be measured. Baseline water quality studies will be completed as well using La Motte's Limnology Test Kit. Stream flow rates and temperature will also be measured.


The questions that this project help students to answer includes:

  • What do Coho salmon need to live?
  • What habitats do Coho occupy?
  • How can the population of Coho salmon be improved?
  • How is water quality measured?
  • What does a fisheries biologist do?
  • Why do scientists use math?



  • Clipboards PVC pipe (50' long, 6"diameter)(Borrow from fisheries)
  • Write on Rain Paper (stationary store)
  • Board with hole for PVC pipe
  • La Motte's Limnology Test Kit
  • Fence Posts
  • wire cutters (hardware or physics lab)
  • Wire (small mesh)
  • small fish net
  • nails & hammer
  • meter sticks
  • 2 Buckets (5 gal)
  • Ping pong balls
  • Stapler Heavy Duty
  • Recording Book
  • thermometers

The following items may be borrowed from a fishery:

  • Fish Box (4'x2'x3')
  • 2"x4" boards 8' long
  • dip net
  • measuring board
  • sand bags
  • Background

Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) live in quiet pools and small streams out of the current of a large river for a year after birth. They then are called smolts. These large smolts leave the quiet life and go down river to the ocean where they spend 3 years eating. About 1 % of the native run will return to their river of birth and spawn, starting the cycle over again. The purpose of this project is to measure baseline biological and chemical data along a small stream called Borde's creek. The baseline data are required by the Department of Fisheries since they will install a concrete spillway above the creek in a man-made pond. The spillway will raise the level of the pond from 4' to 6', which should increase the holding capacity of the pond. Coho historically have spawned here. We will build a fish trap across the creek and monitor the number of Coho smolts leaving Borde's pond and heading toward the Pacific Ocean. We will also measure baseline flow rates, temperature, and chemical content of Borde's Creek.


  1. Mark off a 100 foot length of stream below the pond.

  2. Measure the average width and depth along the creek by taking three measurements adding and dividing the sum by three. Record your three measurements on your field notes. Measure and record temperature of your three sites.

  3. Float a ping pong ball along the same 100 foot channel. Do three timed trials and calculate the average speed. (Hint: speed = distance divided by time).

  4. Use the La Motte's Limnology Test Kit to measure water quality. Record your data for the test that your group is assigned to perform. Follow all instructions in the test kit carefully.

    CAUTION: Some kits contain chemicals that could burn your skin or eyes. Avoid chemical contact with the skin and eyes. Wash your hands immediately after performing the test. Safety goggles are recommended. Your group should be an "expert" by now in one test. Perform the chemical test in the middle of the site (near the 50 foot mark of your channel). Record your data in your field notes.

    Our group tested for: ________________________________________________.

  5. Record where and when the data was taken. Write observations about weather conditions, nearby vegetation, relevant characteristics such as canopy cover, and such things as "it rained 3 inches yesterday", etc.

  6. Construct a fence by forcing the fence posts into the ground on either side of the channel with a post-hole digger. Form a V with the fence. (See the picture.) Use sandbags to anchor the wire mesh inside the bottom 2"x4" board. Staple wire mesh to the boards. Use a hammer, nails and wire to anchor the boards to the fence posts and to each other. Place the fish box with wire mesh sides approximately 50 feet downstream from the V. The wire mesh will allow small fry to escape. Place PVC pipe in the hole of the board upstream and the end into the fish box downstream. Anchor the PVC pipe with fence posts and wire. Coho smolts will be funneled into the PVC pipe and empty into the fish box. Check the box daily by netting the fish in the box and placing them in a 5 gallon bucket of water. Use a small dip net to take one fish from the bucket and place onto the measuring board. Determine the species and length in millimeters. Record this daily. Coho salmon do not have spots on their dorsal fin, trout do. Measure and record the temperature of the water daily. Observe turbidity daily. Is the water clear, cloudy, muddy?

  7. Calculate the flow rate. Flow rate= ave. width (ft) X ave. depth (ft) X speed (ft./sec). 8. Make a data chart and graph your results. Write up your conclusions.

Width (ft)    
Depth (ft)    
Speed (ft/s)    
Flow (Rate)    
pH (ppm)    
Oxygen (ppm)    
CO (ppm)    
Nitrates (ppm)    
Phosphates (ppm)    
Silica (ppm)    
temp (C)    
group #    

Method of Assessment/Evaluation

Students are to write a report about Coho salmon and this fisheries enhancement project. They need to include a self evaluation. The report must include summaries of at least 5 research articles about salmon or related information. This report will be sent to fisheries.

Extension/Reinforcement/Additional Ideas

Use a densiometer to measure the canopy cover. Graph these data: cover versus temperature. Why is cover important to streams?

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