Mt. Eccles fifth graders release salmon

Student scientists get a thorough course in importance of fish habitat

Yagnnesis Mejias counts salmon in her cup before releasing them at Fleming Spit in Cordova, AK on Friday, May 11, 2018. Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times

What do Billy Bob, Llama, Gerald, Cool Guy and Austin Jr. all have in common?

They’re just a few of the 89 newly-released Coho salmon, named by students in Gretchen Carpenter’s fifth grade class at Mt. Eccles Elementary School.

“My favorite part about releasing the fish was that we got to have our own fish and it was really cool that we actually got to feed them in our school,” said 11-year-old Austin Schandel.

Schandel giggled as he recalled the names for his salmon, including Billy Bob, Gilly, Stripes, Camo and Austin Jr.

Kate Morse, program director at Copper River Watershed Project, talked with the students as they sat on the bus outside Fleming Spit on May 11, about their role as salmon scientists, and factors that might influence temperature of a salmon habitat.

“There’s worldwide challenges that we’re already facing that salmon are going to face and other fish and things that require cold weather are going to have a hard time keeping up with as it continues to change.”


Students suggested adding shade to areas where salmon frequent, an idea Morse introduced as bankside vegetation which involves growing plants and trees along the water’s edge to help create shade.

“It’s been hard trying to … make sure all the temperatures are being natural for all the fish,” Tegan Hesse, 11, said.

Fourth through sixth graders helped tend the salmon tank. They alternated months beginning in January when they received the eggs from Wally Noerenberg Hatchery, courtesy of Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp.

“While in the egg and alevin stages, the students just take water temperature daily,” Carpenter said. “Once they are fry, the students are responsible for taking the temperature of the tank and feeding them three times a day.”

CRWP and Prince William Sound Science Center re-established the tank in 2011 and have been helping to set up and coordinate with the teachers and hatchery every year since.

“We train the students to take care of the tank, and deal with most of the routine maintenance and any issues that arise,” Morse said.

During the fall semester, students learned about the salmon life cycle, watershed habitat at each stage, food chains/webs, and the water cycle and reservoirs of water on Earth. In the spring, they learned about different species, ways to harvest salmon in commercial, subsistence, and sport fisheries, plus commercial fishing, fishing management and survival rates of salmon, Carpenter said.

Students also interviewed community members whose jobs are related to salmon and took numerous field trips to gain hands-on experience.

For their second field trip in the spring, the students released the salmon at Fleming Spit.

Morse scooped five to six tiny salmon per cup at the edge of the water as eager students counted and recounted the wriggling fish.

Next, the students placed the cups in the shallow water to avoid shocking the fish awaiting release.

Once each student had a cup, they counted down from three and in unison shouted, “Freedom!”, releasing the fish and saying their goodbyes and well wishes.

“I think they’re probably scared because they’ve never been … outside a tank area before, but I think they’re gonna be happy,” Samaya Faber, 11, said, after she released her fish, Llama and Llamette.

“Releasing them and hoping that they’re going to go off and grow up and maybe we’ll catch one of them,” Hesse said of his hope for the salmon. Schandel, in turn, urged them to make it back to the stream so they could reproduce.