Seven Upper Peninsula schools are helping local ecosystems while learning about them, too. For over a decade, the Fred Waara Chapter of Trout Unlimited has sponsored the Salmon in the Classroom program.
Since November, students from Gladstone, Escanaba, Mid Peninsula, Superior Central, Powell Township, Negaunee and Gwinn have been raising fish in their classrooms. They received salmon eggs for free from the Department of Natural Resources.
Students raised the fish through the winter, and teachers incorporated the salmon into lessons on conservation and water quality. Now they are being released into streams.
Last Friday, students from Gladstone Junior High set their fish free in the Escanaba River. Sixth grader Mackenna Henson had a simple goal for the fish.
"Swim downstream and survive, hopefully, until they reach their adult stage," Henson said.
Sixth grader James Maki described the responsibility of raising the fish at school.
"We've been feeding them. Checking the water every week, checking levels for ammonia nitrate, nitrate, and the pH levels," Maki said. "I have learned about some of the salmon's anatomy, and the lateral lining helps it navigate."
The Trout Unlimited chapter based in Marquette provides the funds for each school to raise the fish, which comes out to about $1,000 each for the tanks and food. Chapter vice president Jerry Maynard said the group's mission is to improve coldwater fisheries in the UP.
"It's not only now but in the future, so we want to get kids excited about coldwater fisheries, and so they'll continue to work as the grow up to conserve the fisheries," Maynard said.
After seeing some of the eggs not survive in the classroom, students learned that many of the fish they are releasing will be eaten by bigger fish.
"But if they can get out to the big lake--these are chinook salmon they're releasing--and they'll spend three years growing up and then come back to the river and spawn," added Maynard.
"You can't really do this ever again. I think it's a cool field trip, and a lot of people should experience it," commented Henson.
Students leave the fish and take with them new knowledge about ecology. The project also created feelings of excitement for fishermen like Maki.
"I probably wouldn't catch the one I release but there's still that possibility, yeah. That'd be cool if I did!" he said.