It was not your regular teenager’s summer job of flipping burgers and frying potatoes.
For Anika Tolman, a junior at Salmon High School, summer work bordered on adventure. For one task, she donned a wetsuit, mask and snorkel, and crawled on her hands and knees up Big Timber Creek for about 100 meters, counting fish.
On other days she helped with fish surveys feeding out gillnets at Meadow Lake, or walking stream banks counting salmon redds, or installing PIT tags in trout, or manning rotary screw traps to monitor juvenile salmon headed for the ocean. Another task involved carrying an electrofishing backpack to temporarily stun fish during a stream survey.
The opportunity to work on various fisheries projects with Salmon-Challis Forest Service and Idaho Fish and Game biologists and technicians came through the Hutton Junior Fisheries Biology Program. The competitive, nationwide scholarship program selects a couple dozen high school students and matches them up with pros in the fisheries field. The hope is to light a fire in the rising generation and stimulate interest in fisheries science careers.
“I didn’t really know about fisheries at all until I got into this program,” Tolman said. “It’s definitely an amazing opportunity and I’ve loved every step of it.”
Mackay teen Caleb Hampton participated in the program this summer too, working on a fish restoration project in the Little Lost River basin.
One new skill Tolman acquired was learning how to take environmental DNA samples from streams to learn what species are present.
“We take a water sample of certain creeks and you can send this DNA sample into the lab and they can tell you exactly how many species and how many fish are in a certain area of that creek just from the DNA sample,” Tolman said. “It’s crazy. I didn’t even know it was possible until I started doing it. I’ve loved it. It’s super awesome.”
Tolman is the first student selected from Salmon. She was tipped off to the scholarship by her high school biology teacher. Although she enjoys the outdoors — hiking, fishing and riding motorbikes — fisheries biology is new to her. At one point, biologists gave her a fish identification tutorial, plucking fish from a bucket.
“They’ve been good about teaching me what they’re doing, especially since I have zero experience in anything in this career,” she said. “They’ve done really good at showing me how to do things. I’ve just been kind of tagging along with them.”