By Edward Stello

During the Summer of 2017, I was involved in my first internship with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), and I had the pleasure of working under biologist Dan Rankin. This was the first internship that I have participated in with the SCDNR. I regularly worked with technicians Troy Cribb, Parker Sharpe and Vic Blackwell. Our studies included fish such as the largemouth bass and various trout species with many different equipment types.

Brook Trout, Salvelinus fontinalis, prefer small, cool, clear mountain streams with well-oxygenated water. In South Carolina their range is limited to the mountain streams of Oconee, Pickens and Greenville counties.

On my first day, in the middle of May, we went to Lake Jocassee to boat electrofish for largemouth bass. This was my first time ever boat electrofishing, and I had an amazing time. We caught a few fish including a bass that weighed around 8 lbs. This day also introduced me to the more rugged side of fisheries, where we had to extract the otoliths of these bass and place them into small vials. I will not go into the details of how we pulled these otoliths, but it was not at all what I was expecting. With all these new experiences under my belt — after only the first day — I was very excited to have this opportunity and to continue working with this crew.

Overall, this group of people was amazing to work with, and I could not have asked for a better summer internship with better role models.

The rest of the summer projects included pulling gill nets, backpack electrofishing, and more boat electrofishing. In my opinion, gill netting was by far the hardest and nastiest part of my job, but I still had an amazing time. However, though we had a great time out in the field, we spent many days in the lab aging fish by looking at their otoliths under a microscope. Otoliths are the inner earbones of fish, and you can estimate the age of the fish by looking at the number of rings they have, just as you would with the stump of a tree. Once we made predictions of their ages, we then had to cut the otolith in order to get a more accurate estimation of the fish’s age by looking at the cross section of the otoliths. My primary duty during this part of the job was to take the cut otoliths, melt a special resin, and use this to still the otoliths to the slides to be read under a microscope. While this may seem like a boring thing to do, we made it a lot easier to bear by listening to bluegrass music and just sharing some experiences that we had.

 

College interns work with SCDNR biologists at state fish hatcheries and on lakes and rivers to gain experience in their field.

During this internship, there were two experiences that I will most likely remember forever. The first experience happened on the way home from Lake Long, where I was following Parker back while he pulled the shocking boat back to the office. While we were on I-85, I noticed that one of his tires starting to make strange movements and before I could grab my phone to call and let him know, the tire went flat and we had to pull over to change the tire. Though this may seem like not a big deal, the spare tire was connected to the trailer in a way that we were unable to detach it due to the lack of appropriate tools. Finally, an SCDOT worker pulled over and helped us out so we could get back on our way home. About 15 miles later, the tire that we had just changed went flat as well, so now we were on the side of I-85 with a flat tire and no spare. We called Dan, and he had to pick up another tire. I will have to admit, standing on the edge of I-85 with many large vehicles driving by was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, but we made it through.

 

This internship showed me what it was like to work for the DNR and even strengthened my desire to continue working with them.

 

The other very memorable experience I had during this internship was the annual mock fish kill, where the technicians were put to the task of determining the possible cause of the fish kill and figuring out what needs to be done for the proper investigation. My role in the mock fish kill was to take dead fish and place them throughout the stream so the technicians could count them and make an estimation on how many fish may have died. This would have been no big deal if I knew that I would have needed waders. Instead, I had leaky boots and waded through the water in the clothes that I had on, which really was not too bad considering the water was cool and the air was so warm. After all the work was done, everybody involved came together for a huge lunch where great food was made and we talked about what work we have been done and I got to talk to other DNR workers that I had not met before.

Educator and volunteer Chad James and intern Edward Stello weigh and measure Brook Trout caught in Matthews Creek. Matthews Creek is in northern Greenville County and one of SCDNR’s historic sampling sites.

The technicians that I worked with, Troy Cribb, Vic Blackwell and Parker Sharpe also made my summer internship a pleasure. Troy was constantly pushing me to think like a true fish technician and to learn how to come up with creative and innovative ways to solve issues. Vic was definitely the comedian of the group, and he always seemed to have something funny to say that would help with the team’s morale. Parker was always helping with explaining tasks and always giving me something to do when it seemed like there was not much to do and helped with just about anything I needed. I did not get to work with Dan too much, but when I had that opportunity, he was always asking about what I wanted to do with my degree and offered many connections that have helped me continue working with the SCDNR. Overall, this group of people was amazing to work with, and I could not have asked for a better summer internship with better role models.

This internship showed me what it was like to work for the DNR and even strengthened my desire to continue working with them. I want to thank everybody that I had the chance to work with, especially Dan Rankin and Weston Houck for giving me the opportunity to continue working over the semester as a creel clerk. I cannot express my appreciation enough for everyone who gave me the opportunity to participate in this internship and cannot wait to continue my work in the fisheries field.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.