My second grader took a field trip to the Nimbus Fish Hatchery, in Gold River, Calif. this past fall.
The Nimbus Fish Hatchery is off the American River. In the past, salmon and steelhead would spawn in this river. The American River stretches about 100 miles. However, in 1958 the Folsom-Nimbus dam was built, to curb flooding, and provide a water supply for irrigation. As a result of this dam, and the nearby Folsom dam, the Nimbus Fish Hatchery was created to allow the fish to spawn, and hatch salmon and steelhead.
The life of salmon includes birth and exploring, then they go back to where they were born to mate once and die. They only mate once. That mating is sort of a death sentence. Dude. We are lucky to be human.
A trip to the Nimbus Fish Hatchery introduces you to the area wildlife. There’s a trail that parallels the American River, with information on local wildlife and history. Then you get to see the steps that the salmon swim up to spawn, and where they meet their doom. It is amazing to see them swim up all those steps. Nature in all its fascinating glory.
Of course, after that, they waited in this holding area for a bit of man-made spawning. I was not prepared for this. Neither were many of the second graders, who are seven or eight years old. The fish were dumped from the water tank and run through a bit of a shocking mechanism, which apparently puts them out of pain. Then the fish were sorted. The males to one side and the females to the other. The females were sliced open, their eggs scooped out. The females carry about 5,000 orange-colored eggs. The males were shunted down and bopped on the head with a mallet. The eggs were dumped in a bucket, a hatchery worker then took a male and squeezed the white sperm, or “milt” out of the male all over the eggs.
It was horrifying and amusing. Horrifying because the whole process seemed so violent. Yes, I do eat fish, but don’t enjoy seeing the behind the scenes. It was amusing because the kids were totally disgusted and mesmerized by the whole process. In fact, they kept saying, “ewwww, why are the fish peeing on the eggs?”
When I have that special “talk” with my daughter, I will reference the trip to the hatchery. It’s the perfect open.
The Nimbus Fish Hatchery has a small, but informative visitor center. They allow you to visit the raceway ponds, outside, where the salmon are waiting to be released into the river wait. There you can purchase pellets to feed them. Bring coins.
Would I go on this field trip again? Did my daughter and her classmates love it? Yes, and yes! I can’t wait to see another batch of honest reactions from the kids.
The Nimbus Fish Hatchery Visitor Center is open M-F 8am-3pm, Sat/Sun 9am-3pm, Closed Christmas Day. Their opening time may vary during spawning season. The Raceway ponds are open daily 7:30am-3pm. For more information you can visit the website or call 916-358-2884.