Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rene Pellissier adjusts a camera in the fish-counting room at Gold Ray Dam. File Photo/2007

3,000 to 1

If you're thinking a day in the life of an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife fish counter is all about communing with wildlife and spending hours hip-deep in icy water, think again.

In reality, says Rene Pellissier, professional fish counting requires patience, accuracy and the willingness to sit in front of a video screen for hours on end.

"My day is typically a combination of reviewing tapes from the dam and visiting the dam to conduct routine maintenance and tape swaps," says Pellissier, whose mission it is to record the number of fish that pass daily through Gold Ray Dam's fish chamber on the Rogue River near Gold Hill.

During the strongest summer runs — when up to 3,000 salmon and steelhead can pass in one 24-hour period — it takes Pellissier nearly 20 hours of reviewing tape to get a scientifically accurate count for a single day. Tape time decreases in winter months, when only winter steelhead are running.

Once he crunches his numbers, Pellissier distributes them to the agency and to public outlets such as local outdoor stores. ODFW fisheries managers then use the data to set commercial and recreational fishing limits aimed at ensuring the resource's long-term health.

The Gold Ray Dam count is the most accurate data ODFW has about the Rogue River's world-renowned spring chinook salmon run and is used in the agency's new summer chinook conservation plan.

Additional information gathered by Pellissier is important for ODFW's spring chinook population study, which will help predict the strength of future runs.

"Monitoring is key to helping us maintain sustainable populations to benefit present and future generations, while providing for fisheries that are important for the local economy," Pellissier says.

Contributing to the health and well-being of Southern Oregon's famous salmon runs and getting information out to interested sport anglers is rewarding, says Pellissier. But logging endless shifts in front of a video screen is a challenge for someone who used to travel between isolated Alaskan fish hatcheries via float plane, stopping in local villages for a basketball game or cup of coffee at the local sandwich shop.

"I'm an active person, so it didn't come easy," Pellissier admits. "I've learned that I need to get up and do something else for a few minutes at least once an hour, and not review tapes for more than five to six hours at a time without a longer break."

Luckily, it's slow time at Gold Ray Dam. For Pellissier, that means he might actually get out of the chair and into the wilds for an hour or two.

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