Salmon release program spawns anew at Harvey Elementary School

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published April 29, 2015

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Harvey Elementary sixth-graders’ plans to raise, then release, more than 100 salmon into the Clinton River have gone swimmingly, according to students and staff.

Harvey teacher Beth Swartz said this is the second year that her school has raised salmon, though she said other schools in Utica Community Schools have done it longer.

Swartz said raising salmon is a way to teach students about biology, food chains and how the fish are connected to the Great Lakes. The program teaches kids about the fish life cycle in a personal way as they watch the creatures grow from eggs into their more recognizable fishy forms.

“The Chinook salmon are perfectly timed (with) the school year,” she said.

Equipment from the Paul H. Young chapter of Trout Unlimited made the program possible, Swartz said, adding that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources provides the eggs and the training through its Salmon Education Program.

She estimated that her class received around 200 salmon eggs in October, and they hatched before Thanksgiving. The babies then fed off the yolk sacs attached to their bellies until around Christmas, she said.

Although not all the fish have survived the maturation process, Swartz said about 150-160 fish exist in their smolt stage for release.

“We had very, very little die off,” she said.

The Chinook salmon were scheduled to be released into the river at Farmstead Park in Sterling Heights on April 24. Swartz said the released fish are expected to hang out in the river for two or three months. The fish that still survive will likely go to Lake St. Clair and then to the deeper waters of Lake Huron or Lake Erie, she explained.

Swartz said salmon have a habit of returning to the river to spawn about five years after they are released.

“They actually will smell their way back to the spot where they were dropped off,” she said.

Swartz said her sixth-grade students have actively participated in the salmon raising process. She said younger students, such as kindergarteners, are excited to visit the fish every morning, and many Harvey students have their own names for the fatter or smaller salmon.

Harvey sixth-grader Rory Montreuil said the activity is a good one for classmates who have never raised a pet before, because the students learn to feed the fish according to scheduled feeding times.

Montreuil said he looks forward to the salmon release.

“I think it’s good that we’re letting them go because we’re looking forward to letting them be happy,” he said.

Learn more about Harvey Elementary School in Sterling Heights by visiting www.uticak12.org or by calling (586) 797-5100.

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