Green Guide

Utah students become water conscience by raising trout

Posted 3:05 a.m. Friday

— Garrett Palmer put on his best face of mourning and described how he'd miss "George," the young trout he and his classmates had raised since it was an egg.

That started in January, and now, months later, it was time to bid adieu to George — a somewhat sad affair even though Garrett said his fish was "cannibalistic" and dined on other young trout.

"It was gross. But I hope he survives out there. He's an amazing fish," he said.

The fifth-grader couldn't say what set George apart from the others — or how he could tell that fish from the 60 or 70 other young trout — but he was confident the fish had the survival skills to make a big splash at Andy Adams Reservoir in Layton upon his release mid-May.

Trout Unlimited and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources have been placing young fish with young people in the state since 2013, hoping to teach children about the importance of water quality and aquatic ecosystems and to become stewards of the natural resources around them.

Trout in the Classroom, of course, is also about having fun, teaching kids a little bit of biology and the notion that in this tale of life, survival goes to the fittest.

The fifth-graders from HighMark Charter School in neighboring South Weber released their young fish friends into the waters at the community fishing spot, realizing it might be tough for the new kids on the block to survive.

Here, in this tranquil setting next to a golf course and homes in the middle of busy Layton, bigger, hungry fish already call the reservoir home.

Andy Adams Reservoir sports rainbow trout, crappie, wiper, walleye, and spotted and striped bass. One notation in the Utah Fishing Report indicated garlic power bait brought in a monster 27-inch rainbow trout — no small fry there.

Still, Paul Thompson, the division's aquatics program manager in the northern region, told the kids the reservoir actually offers the young fish the best chance for survival, better than the aquarium they'd been living in because now they have a place to lay low.

"See that vegetation and algae?" he asked, gesturing toward the shoreline. "They'll be able to hide there."

Both Katrina Hadlock and Emma Swenson seemed content to say goodbye.

Katrina said there were "at least" five cannibals among the school of fish they'd raised, and it was "super gross" to see other fish tails hanging from their mouths.

Emma added that the water would get so murky, especially during feeding time that it would look like it was full of grounds of floating cinnamon. It didn't smell nearly as good, though.

Paul Burnett, Trout Unlimited's Utah Water Project biologist, said Trout in the Classroom provides a fun framework for environmental education.

"One of our hopes is that it develops stewardship in these kids," he said.

Both Thompson and Burnett said those lessons are important to learn at a young age because water quality is not only vital for the fish, but also speaks to the quality of a city's drinking water.

Trout in the Classroom is offered in 22 schools in Utah through partnerships with the state and five chapters of Trout Unlimited.

A new chapter in Utah County aims to place trout in the classrooms via two tanks in the 2017-18 school year. There is already a waiting list. Across the country, 35 states participate.

Cassie Silvester, a teacher at HighMark, said she believes the students learned a lot through the program.

"They saw these white balls become fish," Silvester said. "It teaches them about the world around them. . Maybe they'll even want to go out and go fishing now."

Later this month, in fact, the program is planning four trout releases in Cache Valley, where the children will get a chance to cast a line afterward.

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