by Kier Junos, Contributor
Brenda Calnek’s Grade 3 kids at Prince Charles Elementary (PCE) school might look like they’re just peering into a fish tank, but below the surface, they’re learning about the interconnectivity of their own lives.
Some kids call out the names of their little salmonids. Then, some ask, “Mrs. Calnek, did you know that coho salmon are going extinct?”
Salmon are a keystone species. They feed many different animals up the food chain and their carcasses put nitrogen, phosphorus and other important nutrients back into the earth. Those help plant life flourish and subsequently plant-eating or tree-dwelling organisms.
The PCE kids have been rearing salmon for the last few months as part of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ (DFO) effort to strengthen Pacific salmon populations and raise conservation awareness. The DFO has partnered with schools in this movement since 1977.
The program operates every year in the spring. Thirty-three classrooms in the Abbotsford school district are involved, and this year, Abbotsford schools will release about 15,000 to 16,000 salmon fry.
The DFO works with about 400 schools in the Lower Mainland in its education programs.
The PCE kids started the rearing process with a trip to a hatchery, where the eggs were removed from adult fish. Then in January, the eggs went off to different schools in the district and began growing in their tanks.
Calnek said the salmon hatch rate in cultivation is 80 per cent and that in the wild, it’s only 10 per cent.
Before spring break, the salmonids at PCE were at the alevin stage, which are essentially hatched fish but not quite fry. They hid at the bottom of the tank. Now, they’re in the fry stage, swimming around the tank, bobbing upwards for food flakes.
When they’re ready for release, the kids will go to a local stream and release the fry, which can live in fresh water for up to a year before they swim towards the ocean as smolt.
Some of the fish, like humans, are born with deformities and the children find a lesson in that.
One exercise had the kids tell stories with slideshow software, where the characters were personified salmon.
Calnek said that the process is really a vehicle for kids to have “something to respect.” She often compares humans and salmon so that the kids might see the parallels between their lives and those of others.
(Photo below by Kier Junos: Third-graders from Prince Charles Elementary are raising salmon as part of a class project undertaken by many Lower Mainland schools.)