Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Atlantic Salmon in Schools Program

Rose Raymond
Library Tech
Granite St. School
Millinocket, ME
2015 TTEC Cohort

Atlantic salmon stages of development
 Granite St. School has participated in an Atlantic salmon in schools program since 2010. This environmental program allows Atlantic salmon eggs to hatch as students watch them in their stages of development, shown.  Just before February vacation volunteers deliver 200 salmon eggs to a fish tank where the temperature is just above freezing. Over the course of many months the salmon begin their transformation through the different stages of development.  Once they develop into Fry, a stage where the yolk sac has completely absorbed into the body, we only have a few days in order to get them into the river.  It is now the month of May and at this point the tank temperature should be 50 F very close to the river temperature, where they will make their home.

On the day of the field trip to the East Branch of the Penobscot River students are shown how to siphon the salmon up with tubing from the aquarium into a bucket.  We note the importance of matching the river temperature with the temperature of the bucket water and assign a student to this task when we get to the river.  This is a great time to do a pocket activity with the rest of the students.

Students always ask once they’re released, what’s going to happen to them?  The fry will remain in the area where the students release them for a couple of years, where they will feed on black fly, mosquito, stonefly and the caddisfly.  As the salmon parr continue to grow through their second winter they undergo the biological changes of smoltification, a process that takes place in certain gill cells and kidneys of the fish, allowing it to live in either fresh or salt water.  These two year old salmon, now called “smolts”, imprint on the particular chemical “fingerprint” of their home stream.  They actually learn the unique smell of their home river which allows them to recognize and return to it two years later when they return.  The survivors of the salmon students stocked in 2016 will instinctively migrate downstream to the ocean in 2018.  They’ll enter the sea, and migrate northeastward to Greenland, where there’s lots of food.  They’ll eat shrimp which gives them their salmon flesh color.  At four or five years old, 2018, they’ll once again begin a migration back to their home stream in Maine where they stocked them. Unlike Pacific salmon, which all die after spawning, Atlantic salmon returns to spawn several times if they get really lucky in avoiding predators.

What grade will you be in 2019, when the salmon come back?  A fun topic of discussion for students to realize the length of this life cycle!

This program goes beyond classroom borders to involve the local community in resource management.  It gets students into the outdoor classroom and teaches them stewardship in protecting natural resources.

WARNING. . . Insect repellent is toxic to the fry.  To be safe, no one on the field trip can bring or use insect repellent!
Once the container and stream temperature are matched, students will transfer the fry into the river giving the number of fry to the student in charge of the count.  The data is totaled for a completion of the permit.

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