2012-05-11 / Front Page

Small fry

Students help fish with transition
By Kristy Wagner
Staff Writer

Katrina Venhuizen, enviornmental educator with Portland Water District, shows Mahoney Middle School students steps in which to incoprorate fish into Trout Brook in South Portland. (Kristy Wagner photo) Katrina Venhuizen, enviornmental educator with Portland Water District, shows Mahoney Middle School students steps in which to incoprorate fish into Trout Brook in South Portland. (Kristy Wagner photo) New fish have moved into Trout Brook at the end of Providence Avenue in South Portland.

Portland Water District environmental educators and Mahoney Middle School sixth graders spent last Thursday afternoon testing the water in the South Portland brook and learning about environmental factors that affect water quality before they released baby brook trout into the stream.

“We go to schools and teach kids why they should keep the water clean and at end of the year they release the trout and that’s a tangible reason why they should keep the water clean; so these guys can stay alive,” said Katrina Venhuizen, environmental educator with Portland Water District.

Since January, Venhuizen and Megh Rounds, another environmental educator, have been teaching children about trout anatomy; its life cycle; water quality and pollution; habitat protection and watersheds. Children raised trout in the classroom from eggs to fry and released them into the brook after they tested the water’s ph level and made sure there were enough insects in the area for food. Students tested the water and monitored their tank’s temperature everyday in the classroom and then charted and graphed the data so they could compare the results.

Students raised trout in their classrooms before releasing them last week. (Kristy Wagner photo) Students raised trout in their classrooms before releasing them last week. (Kristy Wagner photo) South Portland schools that participated in the Trout Kids program were Dyer Elementary, Small Elementary and Skillin Elementary. Students from Mahoney Middle School and the three elementary schools released fish into the brook every day last week. Portland Water District includes Portland-area schools in the program, but water districts in other communities also provide programs similar to Trout Kids.

Trout Brook in South Portland. 
(Kristy Wagner photo) Trout Brook in South Portland. (Kristy Wagner photo) “(Trout Brook) was an impaired stream we are working on improving the quality of,” Rounds said. “The testing we did was chemical testing and macro invertebrate biological testing in order to determine whether it was safe or not. Our readings have been pretty decent.”

Lynne Richard, environmental education coordinator at Portland Water District, said a state biologist has to approve every release site for the trout. Trout Brook used to be on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of impaired waters, but recently the stream was declared a safe habitat after a small - but thriving - population of brook trout were found.

“Everybody was surprised about it. The state biologist said it was not the best habitat in the whole state, but (the trout) were surviving,” Richard said.

Richard began working at Portland Water District 11 years ago, when the department had a program similar to Trout Kids.

“Then they were working with Atlantic Salmon and we had to release those in the Saco River, which is outside of our watershed,” Richard said.

Richard thought it would be better for the release sites to be closer to where the children lived, and brook trout are a more “accessible” fish that children would most likely see in the wild in the immediate area.

“Brook trout is a different thing and Maine is the only state in the country that still has an original native brook trout habitat; that makes trout an important fish to us,” Richard said.

Richard collaborated with Fred Dillon, stormwater program coordinator at South Portland Water Resource Protection, because of Dillon’s involvement with the unique situation in Trout Brook as the first impaired stream in which the program has released fish. Also considered was the fact that the state found trout living in the stream.

“My job is to look at five urban impaired streams, which is a designation given by the department and required by the (Environmental Protection Agency),” Dillon said. “That designation is given to streams that don’t meet water quality standards.”

Dillon said he also looks for the presence of pollution-sensitive insect species to help determine the quality of a stream’s habitat.

“If they are present, then the water is safe. (Pollution sensitive insects) are like the canary in the coal mine,” Dillon said.

The students broke into three groups after they walked to the release site from Mahoney Middle School and rotated between three stations.

“This is a great way to connect what these guys are doing to what happens on the landscape,” Dillon said. “The Portland Water District has two stations where they determine water quality ratings and farther down in the woods they’re looking at insects. I’ll be working on landscape.”

Venhuizen taught the children about water quality and helped them perform water tests to determine ph levels, among other data. Rounds’ station focused on the insects and species needed as a food supply and determine a healthy habitat for the trout. Dillon talked to children about how the surrounding landscape can affect water quality, either positively or negatively.

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife donated trout eggs from its Dry Mills Hatchery in Gray and the Casco Fish Hatchery in Casco.

Richard said the program is not publicly funded; parent teacher organizations help with purchasing the tank, chiller and filter needed to house the trout in each classroom.

“It’s almost $1,000 for the equipment,” Richard said. “I order it for them and I take care of permits and organize and coordinate and take care of anything that goes wrong. We try to make (the program) easy for teachers to do in classroom.”

Classrooms use a chiller in each tank because developing brook trout are temperature dependent: they develop slower in cold water and faster in warmer water. Richard said trout spawn in the fall and eggs are available in January. The cold winter water helps the fish to develop without the threat of predators. In spring, they rise up as fry, which look like full-grown trout – except they are only about an inch long.

Richard said this is the first year South Portland students had the opportunity to release their trout into a local stream.

“We used to take the South Portland kids up to Mill Brook, a tributary of the Presumpscot,” Richard said. “It was a good bus ride away and I don’t feel like most of them would recognize where they were. We are always looking for places (to release trout) right near the schools.”

An important aspect to the Trout Kids program is that students get to give something back to nature, Richard said.

“We usually collect something from nature and, in this case, we are actually putting something back,” she said. “It’s a unique kind of situation.”

Staff Writer Kristy Wagner can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 233

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