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December 12, 2023

Over 20% of the Western Fisheries Research Center’s (WFRC) partners are Tribes. Many Tribes have treaty rights to—and are heavily dependent on—fish for food, culture, and their economies. In many places, the Tribes actively co-manage resources with federal, state and local governments.

Joanne Salzer and Spokane Tribal intern, Justine Flett conducting virus exposures
Joanne Salzer and Spokane Tribal intern Justine Flett conducting virus exposures in the WFRC Seattle web lab. 

For decades, WFRC scientists have worked closely with Tribal scientists and managers to develop and execute the science needed to recover fish populations and improve their management. Our role has varied widely depending upon the priorities of our Tribal partners. From technical assistance, science reviews, equipment, expertise, and co-production, our center strives to respond to the needs of each Tribal partner. We currently work on research related to fish health, salmon reintroductions, fish passage and stream connectivity, species recovery, contaminants, and invasive species.

One area we’ve been working to increase our engagement with Native Alaskan and American Indian Tribes is through internships and career development. Over the summer of 2023, WFRC partnered with the Sealaska Heritage Institute’s (SHI) STEAM Internship program to host a Southeast Alaskan indigenous high school student intern. This Sealaska internship program draws from its 25,000+ shareholders of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people. Interns are placed with hosts in business, environmental, and science & engineering fields for six weeks, allowing them to explore their career interests and grow professionally while simultaneously sharing their experience and cultural values with their hosts. Jossline Aranda Jackson interned with the WFRC’s Fish Health section led by Dr. Paul Hershberger. Dr. Prarthana Shankar acted as Jossline’s mentor, and together with a group of scientists, Jossline was introduced to many aspects of both Fish Health (virology, microbiology, toxicology, histopathology, and physiology) and Fish Ecology (bioenergetics, food webs, predation studies, and dam removal). Prarthana shared, “The STEAM internship seems like a valuable opportunity for high school students or recent graduates to have an immersive experience in a new place before starting college. Jossline had the opportunity to work both in the laboratory and the field while interacting with several scientists, and I had the chance to learn about her upbringing and culture, and how she plans to integrate them as an aspiring Glaciologist.”

WFRC also supported the professional development of an intern with the Spokane Tribe through a collaborative study. USGS scientists are working with fisheries staff from the Spokane Tribe and Coeur d'Alene Tribe, including Spokane fish health scientist Rebecca Cook and Tribal student intern Justine Flett, to evaluate the potential risks of fish viruses that could be introduced above Grand Coulee dam when passing salmon and steelhead. Reintroducing salmon and steelhead upstream of Grand Coulee dam has the potential to substantially contribute to the recovery of salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia River Basin based on the availability hundreds of miles of pristine, coldwater habitat. However, native Redband rainbow trout that inhabit the waters above Grand Coulee dam are highly valued; therefore, it’s been deemed important to assess their susceptibility to the infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV) that could be carried by passing steelhead or other salmonids. Rebecca and Justine joined WFRC’s Dr. Gael Kurath, Joanne Salzer, and Bill Batts to conduct virus exposures in our Seattle-based aquatic lab. We look forward to learning the results!

Recognizing the importance of establishing a new generation of fish health specialists in the region, WFRC’s Fish Health lead, Dr. Paul Hershberger, has partnered with the University of Washington to develop a graduate training opportunity for students to become fish health professionals. The training will include working with fish pathologists at WFRC and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, allowing for integration and exchange of knowledge between university, federal, and Tribal groups. Tribal students are highly encouraged to participate in this program. Students graduating from this program also receive an Aquatic Animal Health Inspector certification through the Fish Health Section of the American Fisheries Society.  

Through these various internships and exchanges, we learn and grow together, finding common ground and making new discoveries!

WFRC scientists, Spokane fish health scientist and Spokane Tribal intern conduct virus exposures
Gael Kurath, Joanne Salzer and Bill Batts joining Spokane fish health scientist Rebecca Cook and Spokane Tribal intern Justine Flett to conduct virus exposures in the WFRC Seattle weblab. Our scientists are collaborating with the fisheries staff from Spokane and Coeur d'Alene Tribes in a study to determine how susceptible Redband trout are to IHN virus (infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus). Wild-caught juvenile Redband trout are being tested by exposure to 3 strains of IHNV that are the most common types in the Columbia River Basin. This includes the M group strains that cause severe disease in rainbow and steelhead trout. Information gained will be used by the Tribes in decisions regarding passage of adult anadromous fish above Grand Coulee Dam.

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