Sonar fish counts on the Chignik River

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Myra Scholze steering ADFG’s skiff in Chignik, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Myra Scholze.

Field work is often seen as the glamorous part of science, where researchers get to experience the outdoors and be close to the subjects that they study. The sad reality is though that most scientists spend their time analyzing and processing data on computer screens at office desks. For Myra Scholze, a Fish and Wildlife Technician, for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG), this is no unfamiliar territory.

Scholze began working for the ADFG seven years ago in the sport fisheries division in Kodiak. Two years ago, she began doing research for ADFG near Chignik, Alaska on the Alaskan Peninsula. The community of Chignik is primarily a fishing village that relies on the commercial and subsistence fisheries there.

Scholze’s work with ADFG helps manage those fisheries to maintain their sustainability. Her work is to count the salmon that swim up river between May and September.

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Myra Scholze on the Chignik River. Photo courtesy of Myra Scholze.

“Counting the fish is what tells fish and game when to open and close commercial fisheries,” Scholze said. “For each day of the month, in June and July, there’s escapement goals you’re supposed to meet that indicate that you’re going to meet your total number of fish that’s needed to maintain a sustainable run. We count the fish up and meet those goals then the manager at Chignik decides when and what areas to open and for how long.”

Specifically, Scholze is funded through a grant that is comparing and trying to find the correlation between fish counts made on a weir or on a sonar. The two fish counting methods generate a massive amount of data that must be processed.

Weir measurements are made by forcing salmon through a bottleneck in the river, the weir itself, and recording video of the salmon as they pass by. Researchers then go back and count how many individual salmon pass the camera lens.

Sonar doesn’t record video in a traditional sense, but rather records how sound moves through water. Sonar data is collected on both banks of the river and then a researcher must sit and watch back each of the videos and count how many fish blips they see on screen.

“We have two sonars and every ten minutes they create a file that looks kind of like a fish finder on a boat. That’s what you’re counting,” said Scholze. “Every bank creates 144 files per day, we have a sonar on each bank of the river, so we are creating 288 files a day. Over a month you’re creating about 10,000 files and that’s why we have such a back log and why I count files.”

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Myra Scholze adjusts the sonar in Chignik. Photo courtesy of Myra Scholze.

The massive amount of data and the nearly real-time nature (the videos can be sped up slightly when only a few fish are moving by) of watching back the files and counting fish makes for long work hours. Scholze has spent months outside of Chignik in the Kodiak ADFG office, in addition to long evenings at the bunkhouse in Chignik, just counting back fish on videos, so finding a correlation between weir and sonar counts may take years to come. The preliminary conclusions about correlation can’t even be made yet.

“They’ve looked at it [the correlation], but we don’t have enough done from 2016 yet.” Scholze said.

The work may be grueling to some, but to Scholze she loves being able to collect the data that helps inform management decisions for Alaskan fisheries. She intends to continue working for ADFG in Chignik for as long as they have files for her to count. She’s currently in Dutch Harbor, Alaska working for ADFG as a Fish and Wildlife Technician for the crab fishery there. Myra will return to Kodiak in the spring to restart her sonar counts before heading back to the field in Chignik as a Fishery Biologist.

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Myra Scholze collecting samples in Alitak, Alaska for a job she held with ADFG before working for ADFG in Chignik, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Myra Scholze.

 

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Solitude seeker: Molly Liston

women wanderers

Molly Liston grew up in Homer, Alaska, where the forest came down into her backyard, and Roseburg, Oregon, where the Pacific Crest Trail meandered only about two hours from her home. She spent hours playing and hiding out in the woods and fell in love with the outdoors.

“My parents just would say ‘Go outside and play!’”

Her parents also inoculated in her the skills to get outside by taking Molly and her siblings skiing as early as three-years-old. For Molly, the outdoors is not just a hobby. She pursued a physical education degree with an outdoor adventure emphasis at the University of Alaska-Anchorage.  In school, she began working with the current health, physical education and recreation director and associate professor, TJ Miller, running an outdoor program for student living on campus.

Molly now works at Pacific Northern Academy, an independent and non-sectarian private school in Anchorage, as the physical education teacher. It is Molly’s first steady job, but her desire for adventure cannot be tamed. In the summers she guides for Ascending Path or Chugach Adventures based out of Girdwood, Alaska. Molly also helps teach a few outdoor classes at UAA, including a beginning canoeing class that will be offered this summer. In her teaching Molly teaches her students that they can do anything.

“One of my major goals while teaching is to really empower students (both male and female) to try their best no matter where they begin physically or athletically… I encourage them to practice the things that they want to get better at and remind them that to be good at something it requires practice and repetition.”

Molly tries to be an inspiration to her students. She wants no one to ever feel as if they can’t do something for any reason.

“Another thing that I try to do is to simply be a positive role model. Most Physical Education teachers are the stereotypical athletic male and by being a strong athletic and female leader I hope to encourage those female students to break barriers in their own lives. It’s a very exciting and gratifying position to be in!”

Molly also works with college aged students at UAA. Molly’s experience landed her the job as an assistant professor for a 26-day expedition in the Brooks Range with UAA’s outdoor leadership program in 2014. The trip included hiking over 100 miles into the Brooks Range and rafting back out. There were nine students in the class, two were female.

Molly was the only female instructor so was left in a tent by herself, whereas everyone else had a tent mate, including the two other instructors who tented together.

“Yes, I felt very free because you are, you are really smelly and you just want your alone time so that was really nice, but I had to tear down my tent and set it up by myself every single day and cook all my own food. They all got to switch back and forth, so that was a little bit challenging.”

Molly is no stranger to working alone though. In 2012 she hiked the Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail by herself. The journey started out as a trip between her brother Matt and her, but a week into the trip Matt couldn’t go any further due to injury. Molly, a capable outdoorswoman who is self reliant, wouldn’t let the idea of going alone stop her. She hiked about a month and over 500 miles by herself.

Molly and Matt had planned for such an occurrence knowing that he always gets hurt. He was nervous, but excited for Molly to continue. The two knew that she could make phone calls on her cell periodically when she had service and were confident in Molly’s abilities in the woods.

“We knew that it was going to be interesting, I mean, it’s tough, these things are still nerve wracking, but I’m not the first person to do that. There’s other women who hiked the whole thing by themselves.”

Despite the obvious dangers of being in the woods by yourself and of being a woman alone in the woods Molly found herself struggling with something much different than fears related to those dangers. Molly’s experience on the Pacific Crest Trail was a time of solitude and self reflection.

“You know it was really tough because there’s no route finding. When you have to route find you’re always thinking, you’re always like ‘okay I’m here,’ you’re looking at where you are on the map, but when you’re on the Pacific Crest Trail and you literally don’t have anything to think about other than yourself. It was very challenging – physically and mentally. I was really proud of myself. There was a lot of times I wanted to stop because of blisters or I don’t know maybe even being a little bit bored with myself because I’m such a social person. It was definitely very mentally challenging.”

While Molly battled with the isolation of the trail she finds the alone time to be one of the best parts of being outdoors.

“I just love how quiet it is when I’m by myself and just the freedom to be quiet by yourself, but then in the other aspect I love sharing the experiences with people.”

Matt and Molly starting their journey on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Matt and Molly starting their journey on the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo courtesy of Molly Liston.
Molly's brother Matt takes a quick break on the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo courtesy of Molly Liston.
Molly’s brother Matt takes a quick break on the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo courtesy of Molly Liston.
One of the last camps that Molly and Matt set up together in the first portion of Molly's journey on the Pacific Crest Trail. This camp was made on their seventh night of the trip near Red Lake Trail. Photo courtesy of Molly Liston.
This camp was made on Molly and Matt’s seventh night of the trip near Red Lake Trail. Photo courtesy of Molly Liston.
Molly Liston sits above Crater Lake on the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo courtesy of Molly Liston.
Molly Liston sits above Crater Lake on the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo courtesy of Molly Liston.
Molly and Scout, Molly wears Chacos to help alleviate blisters while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.. Photo courtesy of Molly Liston.
Molly and Scout, Molly wears Chacos to help alleviate blisters while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo courtesy of Molly Liston.
Molly and Scout overlook the Sky Lakes Wilderness on the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo courtesy of Molly Liston.
Molly and Scout overlook the Sky Lakes Wilderness on the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo courtesy of Molly Liston.
Molly and Matt celebrate their completion of Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo courtesy of Molly Liston.
Molly and Matt celebrate Molly’s completion of the Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo courtesy of Molly Liston.
Liston looks out towards Spencer Glacier. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Liston looks out towards Spencer Glacier. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Fireweed above Spencer Glacier. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Fireweed above Spencer Glacier. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Molly climbs through the grasses on the Spencer Bench Hike. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Molly climbs through the grasses on the Spencer Bench Trail. The trail takes hikers to the Spencer Bench Cabin on a 3 mile trail that climbs 1,800 feet.   Photo by Kevan Dee.
Wandering through the woods of Spencer Bench Trail. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Wandering through the woods of Spencer Bench Trail. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Molly and Tallie above Spencer Glacier. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Molly and Tallie above Spencer Glacier. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Molly and Tallie explore Spencer Glacier. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Molly and Tallie explore Spencer Glacier. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Molly and Tallie kayaking on Spencer Lake. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Molly and Tallie kayaking on Spencer Lake. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Molly fishing on the BLANK river. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Molly fishing on the BLANK river. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Molly backpacking on the South Fork Trail in Eagle River, Alaska. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Molly backpacking on the South Fork Trail in Eagle River, Alaska. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Molly above Winner Creek Gorge in Girdwood, Alaska in the handtram. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Molly in the handtram on the Grewink Glacier Trail across the bay from Homer, Alaska. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Molly with her fish on BLANK RIVER. Photo by Kevan Dee.
Molly with her fish on the Talkeetna River near Decision Creek. Photo by Kevan Dee.