Originally published as "Raising Salmon in the Classroom: What the Association of Northwest Steelheaders is doing to inform and inspire future environmentalists."
“They’re here! They’re here!” twenty five 3rd graders shout as I step into their classroom holding a small, non-descript cooler. Inside are 500 pink spheres that are causing this classroom to descend into chaos. As we all gather around an aquarium tank, we talk about what I’m holding: salmon eggs.
Every fall and spring, Steelheaders pick up fish eggs from local hatcheries and deliver them to excited elementary students as part of the Fish Eggs to Fry program. The students get to see firsthand how a salmon wiggles out of the gravel when it hatches and slowly absorbs nutrients from their stomach yolk. Students check the tank every day by taking temperature units, observing the fish, and monitoring the water quality. Many classrooms draw maps of the watershed they live in and learn about environmental conditions that effect salmon. Once the salmon have reached fry stage, or when their yolk sacs have been used up and they need to start feeding on tiny organisms, students release them into rivers. The Steelheaders work with educators to provide release day field trips to riverside parks to learn about macro-invertebrates, water quality testing, or a host of other topics, turning nature into their classroom. Allowing the students to release them into rivers creates a connection between student and watershed. When they see it, they daydream about where “their” salmon is, whether hiding in shady pools in a fast-moving river or cruising through the wide open ocean.
Classrooms who participate in the Fish Eggs to Fry program qualify to be in the Eco-Schools Network. Other teachers use their Schoolyard Habitat to talk about native plants in their local watershed. This program is just one way educators and non-profits like the National Wildlife Federation and affiliates are bringing nature and outdoor learning into regular class schedules.
This spring, the Northwest Steelheaders hosted the first annual Family Fish Camp. Thirty dedicated volunteers gave up a weekend during the peak of the Steelhead run to teach about one hundred people to tie knots, the importance of rules and regulations, and how to cast a fishing rod. This fun weekend, aimed at beginners, allowed parents and their kids to learn together. Most had never even held a fishing rod before, let alone a wriggling, slippery rainbow trout! By the end of the weekend, even the most timid of anglers was casting with confidence.
The Association of Northwest Steelheaders has a long tradition of advocating for habitat conservation, fisheries protection, and anglers rights. With the age of technology upon us and more and more youth unfamiliar with nature, programs that connect kids to the great outdoors and demonstrate that nature is educational and fun are vital for future conservation efforts. As the Affiliate of the Year for National Wildlife Federation, the Association of Northwest Steelheaders is proud to provide new opportunities for our community members and youth to connect with nature and find an outdoor activity they love. These meaningful experiences help improve physical, mental, and emotional well-being, but they also inspire young people to become champions for environmental preservation.