Mini fish hatchery popular in Almaguin schools

·3 min read

While the latest COVID-19 school lockdown cut short a fish hatchery program in two Almaguin schools, the program will be back in full swing at Almaguin Highlands Secondary School and Magnetawan Central Public School in the fall. Volunteers with the Almaguin Community Hatchery Program in Magnetawan introduced the program to the grades 5 to 8 elementary students eight years ago before expanding it recently to the high school. John Hetherington, president of the Almaguin Community Hatchery Program, says the students run the show at both the high school and elementary school with minimal supervision from their teachers. “Everything they do with the hatcheries is a learning experience when dealing with the fish,” Hetherington said. The fish in this instance are speckled trout. Each year the Almaguin hatchery group gets 3,000 to 10,000 speckled trout eggs from the Hill's Lake Fish Culture Station in Englehart, one of Ontario's largest hatchery facilities. The eggs are kept in hatchery jars and, once they hatch, the students transfer them to large aquariums in each of the schools. Each mini hatchery has a chiller to control the water temperature which the students keep around 33 to 34 degrees Fahrenheit as they prepare the eggs for hatching before the transfer to the aquariums is complete. Ultraviolet and filter equipment help keep the water in a state conducive for the young trout survival. Eventually the fish are released into the Magnetawan River. But before that, the students get to study the fish up close. Hetherington says the students use a microscope where they take still photos or videos of the fish and that's then hooked up to the classroom monitor “for all the kids to see. “They see the heartbeats and blood moving through the veins as the fish develop,” he said. “The science is incredible. These kids are learning in so many ways. Along the way, they have to keep track of the pH levels in the water as well as the oxygen and ammonia levels.” Hetherington says the ammonia is the result of fish excrement and it's up to the students to alleviate these levels. “It becomes a real study in fish biology,” Hetherington said. The younger children are not told the small trout they release into Magnetawan River never make it to adulthood because of predators. “The kids get to see the fish swim away and we don't explain to them that they're going to get eaten,” he said. The cost of the mini hatcheries in both schools were in the $8,000 to $10,000 range, an amount far beyond the financial means of the Almaguin Community Hatchery Program. But Hetherington says thanks to the generosity of private enterprise as well as the Magnetawan Lions Club and Whitestone Rod and Gun Club, the money came together to acquire all the equipment. This year the mini hatchery at Magnetawan Central Public School saw the program switched from the grades 5 to 8 students to those in grades 1 and 2. By introducing the mini hatchery to students at a very young age, they'll have a different perspective of it when they enter high school and are reintroduced to it in the Environment-Outdoor Education Program, Hetherington said. Normally the students would release the trout later in the school year. But when the latest COVID lockdowns were announced, including shutting down the schools, Hetherington says the students only had hours to act. The elementary students put their fish in a creek while Hetherington released the trout housed in the high school in the Magnetawan River. He expects as COVID moves more into the past, the next school year should bring a full year of learning for the students where the mini hatcheries are involved.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget

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