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Northern Elementary School: Students help manage an in-class trout hatchery

From left, Steve Young, president of the headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited, watches Shauna Pankow, a fifth-grader at Northern Elementary School, transfer 500 brown trout eggs into an aquarium. Assisting the drop is Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fisheries specialist Tony Standera, right, as Hannah Leffelman watches from behind. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Fifth-graders in Jeff Wade's class at Northern Elementary School learned a new meaning to the phrase, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket."

Two green baskets attached to the inside of a large fish tank held steady as student volunteers poured 500 brown trout eggs into them.

"It's better to have two baskets. Should the eggs in one of the baskets get a fungus, the other basket will be safe," said Tony Standera, fisheries specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

This is the third year of the trout-in-the-classroom project at Northern Elementary.

Also present in the classroom Wednesday were Steve Young, president of the headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited, and member Bob Frasey, who have worked with this project since it started.

Through this project, students watch a large aquarium turn into an in-classroom trout hatchery, where they get a hands-on look at the life cycle of freshwater trout.

A $1,400 grant given to the headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited in 2007 from the George W. Neilson Foundation paid for a large aquarium and water chiller.

The trout eggs came from a fish hatchery in Lanesboro, Minn., one of only five cold water hatcheries in Minnesota. According to Young, the brown trout eggs were fertilized on Oct. 12.

Students make calculated estimates as to when the eggs will hatch based on the temperature of the water and the date in which they were fertilized, said Standera.

After the eggs hatch, the students participate in seeing as the trout are released into Clearwater River, which is stocked annually with stream trout in early May.

Minnesota has two native trout species - brook trout and lake trout. Brown trout, native to Germany, and rainbow trout were both introduced to Minnesota in the late 1800s.

According to the Minnesota DNR, brown trout are the hardiest of the trout species because they can tolerate water warmer, less clear waters, more rainbow and brook trout.

Once the trout become the size of a human finger, also called "fingerlings," they are old enough to be introduced into streams and lakes. However, a person cannot simply raise a fish in an aquarium and then release it into the wild.

The Minnesota DNR requires permits and has special regulations that all hatcheries must follow. The DNR requires that all fish raised in hatcheries be tested for diseases before they can be transported or imported.

In years past, Wade's classroom swapped the fingerlings from their classroom hatchery for confirmed, disease-free hatchery fingerlings.

This year, Young and Standera would like to give students the opportunity to see the trout's life cycle take its natural course by release the actual fingerlings from the aquarium.

"We strongly believe the DNR's rules and regulations are very important in keeping our waters disease-free," Young said. "But we're working with the DNR to see if we can release these fingerlings directly into Clearwater River."

Last year, out of 500 eggs, over 350 eggs hatched. According to Young, this was an impressive number.

"It was a good lesson on carrying capacity (the number of species an area can hold). We had to remove a bunch to get it down to 100 hatchlings," Young said.

"It's cool to have teachers teach us about trout," said fifth-grader Connor Fadness, 10. "I like to fish for trout because they put up a big battle. It's relaxing to wake up early in the morning and go out there."

The four trout streams in Beltrami County include Bungashing Creek, Clearwater River, Sucker Brook and Necktie River.