Educating youth on the importance of clean, copious water for humans, fish, and wildlife to share is part of Foster Creek CD's mission. Salmon-in-the-classroom teaches K-12 students and adults about the salmon life cycle, their need for clean water to survive, and responsibility of caring for a tank.
Students and teachers host a tank from early January until their release day, typically in late April or early May. Students test the tank water for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH levels on a weekly basis to ensure the health and survivorship of their salmon.
This program allows participants to see salmon transform through several early life stages right before their eyes: eyed-egg --> alevin (sac fry) --> fry
Chinook salmon are anadromous, meaning they are born in freshwater, migrate to the ocean, and return as mature adults to their natal streams to spawn. The release of these Chinook fry from their classroom tank is just the beginning of their journey and the start of many obstacles that they will face. If they survive into adulthood, they will return to the upper Columbia River to spawn.
FUN FACT: Steelhead are the only salmon that are iteroparous, meaning a percentage of them can survive after spawning. These incredible salmon are referred to as "kelts".
Over the past two years and with the help of the Douglas County PUD and Trout Unlimited, FCCD has now brought Salmon in the Classroom to Bridgeport High School, Mansfield Middle School, Mansfield Elementary, and Waterville Elementary. In early January, 250 summer Chinook salmon eggs were delivered to classrooms hosting a 55 gallon tank.
Over the winter and early spring, participating teachers and students will hatch, raise, feed and finally, release the salmon in mid-spring.
Students track Thermal Units (TUs) to predict when the eyed-eggs will hatch. TUs will continue to be tracked to predict when the alevin will begin feeding on hatchery-supplied fish food, or after their sac (food supply) has "buttoned up".
Since 2018, 589 summer Chinook fry have been released into lagoons in the Columbia River. Release locations include Walla Walla Point Park in Wenatchee and Columbia Cove Park in Brewster.
Students measure and record the water temperature of the Columbia River and the transportation buckets (in orange).
Allowing the salmon to acclimate to the river water temperatures will increase their chance of survival by decreasing the shock of the cooler water to their system. Think of jumping into Lake Chelan in May - brrr, that's cold!
Additionally, salmon smell their way home. This acclimation process gives the salmon an opportunity to smell their new "home" to which they will return to as adults to spawn.
There is a variety of Oncorhynchus (genus in the family Salmonidae) in the Pacific Northwest. Salmon-in-the-classroom focuses on the endangered O. tshawytscha, or the Chinook salmon.