A Fisheries Biologist Gets Antsy

When the phrase "I'm getting antsy to work with fish" lands in your inbox, you quickly realize that a sentiment as genuine as that is what makes a fisheries biologists good at what she does. Jenna Rackovan, one of Alden's fisheries biologists, was the source of this sentiment.  Her dedication to fisheries resources is one of the many reasons our clients trust us with their fish passage and fish protection projects, as well as regulatory and relicensing efforts. 

We asked Jenna to share more about her obvious passion and her role within our Environmental Services group. Read on. 

What is your role as a fisheries biologist at Alden?

I got into this profession because of my love for fish and the waters they live in.  And yes, I really do enjoy working with fish and studying their behaviors and their habitats. I have worked in fisheries for over ten years, and joined Alden four years ago. My job here has been focused on developing and evaluating fish protection and passage systems, FERC relicensing studies, and 316 (b) compliance.

Personally, I feel very strongly about the protection of our fisheries resources and want to help ensure they can be around for generations to come.

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Fish Swim through an Acrylic Flume as part of a LaborAtory test

 

How did you get into this profession?

To be honest, I was that odd child that always knew I wanted to be a marine biologist, and I wanted to work with marine mammals—perhaps like most people do. I was around 5 years old and recall my dad taking me to his office for "take your daughter to work day." He thought it was impressive that a little girl knew what she wanted to be when she grew up and had me tell everyone we met. 

When I graduated college, I started working at a fisheries research lab. It was there that I realized how awesome fish were and decided that I was completely happy studying and working with fish instead of marine mammals. 

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Color marking a juvenile fish for laboratory testing

 

What type of jobs do you work on?

My work has included live fish testing in laboratory flumes to identify optimum design and operational criteria for minimizing injury and mortality and improving fish passage efficiency; upstream and downstream fish passage desktop evaluations;  field evaluations of fish passage technologies and designs of fish passage facilities that have been installed to pass migratory fish at hydro and non-hydro dams or to reduce entrainment at other types of water intakes. My field experience includes several different sampling and fish collection techniques, acoustic telemetry tagging and tracking, fish identification (including ichthyoplankton), fish husbandry and culture, and collection and analysis of DIDSON acoustic camera videos.

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American eels are surgerically tagged on-site during field testing

 

Are there any jobs that stand out as favorites?

Since working at Alden, I have enjoyed many of the jobs I have worked on, but two in particular stand out. The first would be a laboratory evaluation sponsored by ERPI  to determine if intermittent operation was a reasonable approach to optimizing a traveling water screen. The evaluation was for both operational and biological performance, specifically for impingement survival of fish. The study was conducted in two phases in both a small test flume and our large test flume. We evaluated the mortality and injury of a variety of local freshwater species with multiple approach velocities and stationary durations. Being able to utilize our large flume with a scalable traveling water screen was really exciting and took a lot of work to accomplish. Our fish holding facility was filled to maximum capacity: over 7,000 fish!

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Observing traveling water screen Installation For laboratory Study

 

The second project that stands out for me would have to be the American eel downstream passage study that was conduced over the course of two years and involved a laboratory study, a field study and a desktop evaluation. The laboratory evaluation tested the downstream passage efficiency of silver American eels using two new modular and scalable downstream bypass systems. All of the eels were PIT tagged and we used underwater cameras to monitor their movements. We had to conduct this research at night when eels are most likely to migrate, so we spent many cold nights into the wee hours of the morning waiting for eels to move through the systems. The following year we acoustically tagged approximately 200 eels and released them at a hydropower site. We spent weeks at this site surgically tagging eels, releasing them and monitoring their movements with hydrophones and underwater cameras.

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Releasing American eels at hydropower site at night when eels are most active

 

What are you looking forward to in the coming months and especially post-pandemic? 

The pandemic has been tough on everyone and I feel very fortunate that I was able to work from home for much of this past year. Our work shifted to more desktop projects as in-person and laboratory studies were delayed due to health and safety concerns. However, I cannot wait to get back to a full schedule of lab and field experiments. There is nothing like seeing our fish holding tanks running at capacity or waking up early or working late into the evening to be at a field site when the fish are most active. Seriously, you can’t really beat the view of a sunrise or sunset over water. (The main image on this page was taken at sunset during field work at a hydropower site.)

I'm also excited about upcoming work that will involve laboratory studies testing the new fish exclusion screen designs developed by Alden and Charles Coutant as part of the DOE Fish Protection Prize. We also plan to continue some work we started last year for testing upstream passage using the Whooshh transport system for River Herring. And let's not forget the multiple hydropower FERC relicensing studies we have on tap. 

Editors note: Following this article, Jenna was featured as part of a DOE Office of Efficiency & Renewable Energy article entited, "Women Poised to Bring Sea Change in Clean Energy." 

Looking for fisheries biological or engineering help? Let's talk. We can work with you to determine the best approach for fish passage and fish protection or improving the operation of your design.

 

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