Intern shares love of salmon at hatchery youth program
August 16, 2011
By Tom Corrigan
When he hunted her down looking for a job at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, Brian Hoefgen said Celina Steiger, the hatchery’s education coordinator, asked him to name the different types of salmon.
Hoefgen, 22, said he was able to come up with four of the seven salmon species but got the job despite some initial gaps in his salmon knowledge.
With AmeriCorps VISTA supplying him with what he described as a small stipend, the Issaquah native and graduate of Skyline High School now certainly knows all seven salmon types and quite a bit more about the fish as well. Hoefgen has spent the summer sharing his knowledge with area youngsters enrolled in the hatchery’s Summer Salmon Camps.
“It’s really fun working with the younger kids,” said Hoefgen, who first shared the salmon story with 9- to 11-year-olds at a farm program in Fall City. Now, he’s back at the Issaquah hatchery and working with even younger youths and about to take on the hatchery’s first preschool program.
“There’s a lot of experiences I’ve had here that I couldn’t have any place else,” Hoefgen said.
A June graduate of the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences, Hoefgen said he just walked into the hatchery “and started knocking on doors” looking for a position. Now, while his VISTA grant runs out at the end of the month, Hoefgen said he doesn’t want to leave the hatchery.
“I feel like I’m at home here, like this is where I belong,” he said.
While he hasn’t always been an expert on salmon, Hoefgen said he has long appreciated their importance to Issaquah and the whole region. While his interest in the environment should be obvious from his college major, Hoefgen said some time spent studying in Israel and Jordan really got him looking at water and fish conservation. He noted that Jordan is the fourth most water-deprived country on the planet, adding Jordanians go to great lengths to make the most of every existing drop.
Further, while in Israel, Hoefgen said he made a side trip to Cairo.
“There’s just garbage everywhere, all along the roads, in the water,” Hoefgen said.
He asked some local fisherman what their catch was like and was told it didn’t amount to much.
Closer to home, most know that while this area still is famous for salmon, that population is in trouble. Hoefgen said he believes another species of salmon almost certainly will be added to the endangered species list sometime soon.
“When I got back here, I saw I needed to do something about all this,” he said. “We have a pretty special animal here and I don’t think we realize how special it is.”
Hoefgen said he believes that to some extent locals hear so much about salmon that they tend to take the fish for granted. Still, Hoefgen said he’s seen plenty of interest in the fish displayed by visitors to the hatchery, both youngsters and adults.
“People come here and they are curious,” he said.
Besides the Middle East, Hoefgen has visited China and Australia. During his time in the latter nation, he said he paid his way partly by “WWOOFing it.” The acronym stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms. Hoefgen said in exchange for a place to stay, he worked six or seven hours a day with local growers.
For the future, Hoefgen said he hopes to go into environmental law. For now, he’s trying to extend his stay at the hatchery, saying once more that he likes working with the youngsters in his salmon classes.
“I feel like a big kid myself,” he said.