Sarah Zimmerman, a BHSU biology major from Spearfish, spent three months studying sockeye salmon on a remote Alaskan island.
For some college students, no cell phone service, limited internet and a high of 68 degrees would not be an ideal way to spend the summer. However, Black Hills State University student Sarah Zimmerman had the opportunity to conduct salmon research at a remote Alaskan fish hatchery and says she enjoyed the three-month learning experience.

Zimmerman, a biology major from Spearfish, researched sockeye salmon at the Main Bay Hatcher near Cordova, Alaska, as part of the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation (PWSAC), a private nonprofit aquaculture association founded in1974 by local fisherman and other stakeholders to optimize Alaska’s wild salmon resources. PWSAC produces hatchery-born, ocean-raised wild salmon for the commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries in the Prince William Sound and Copper River Regions.

Zimmerman applied for the summer program after hearing about it from her coworker at the McNenny Fish Hatchery, near Spearfish, where she works as a research aid during the school year.  Zimmerman, who has worked at the local fish hatchery for three years, thought researching salmon in Alaska would be a great experience.

As part of her work at the hatchery, Zimmerman’s duties included loading and unloading adult fish from vessels, feeding fish, tagging and fertilizing eggs, and taking care of incubating eggs. During the first two months, Zimmerman prepared for the salmon spawning season, and in August, she sorted through the male and female fish, retrieved the eggs and put them in an incubator.  “I learned so much about sockeye salmon. You were so involved with every step,” Zimmerman said.

“It took three weeks, and we got 12 million eggs,” she said.

Zimmerman said adjusting to the new lifestyle took some time.  “It was very remote, no town. You just had the hatchery, bunk houses and the people you were with,” she said. To get to the Main Bay Hatchery, Zimmerman, who had never even been on an airplane before her Alaska trip, had to take a floatplane from Cordova.

During her free time, Zimmerman had the opportunity for recreational activities including hiking, fishing, and playing cards and other games with other summer workers.  

Zimmerman, who graduates in May, said the experience opened her eyes to future possibilities in Alaska or elsewhere.  She notes she would enjoy going up to Alaska for another season.

“It was fun and a great experience,” she said. “It was nice to go. The world does not seem so small once you get out there. “