BANGOR – From the day they recently received 200 salmon eggs to the moment they release new salmon into the Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor in May, seventh graders at All Saints Catholic School are in for quite an experience.
It’s a project that is already stirring the children’s empathy as well as their scientific interest.
“I think everyone should know how much danger these fish are in so we can work together to save them,” said Lexi, a student.
“I think the most exciting thing is that we can actually work with an endangered species and help them grow up and thrive,” said T.J., another seventh-grader.
The process began in late February with the welcoming of the eggs to the science laboratory. The class observes the developing eggs in a large fish tank that is kept just above freezing to replicate the temperature of the Kenduskeag. The students check the equipment and temperature regularly to make sure the project is staying on track, document observations on “Fishy Fridays,” and research different aspects of the Atlantic salmon to prepare presentations.
“I am surprised at how high they can jump,” said Abe. “I hope to learn more about the life cycle of a salmon.”
“I can’t wait to learn about the history of Maine’s dams,” said Ellie.
“I think people show know how the salmon get to reproduce,” said Alyce.
“When Atlantic salmon return from the ocean, they can be upwards of three feet long,” said Vanessa Rehmeyer, the middle school science teacher overseeing the project. “This salmon has a long history in Maine as the ‘king of fish.’”
Atlantic salmon begin their life cycle in rivers and eventually undergo a physiological change that allows them to live in saltwater.
“These salmon migrate to the ocean, eat a lot, grow a lot, then return to the river in which they were born,” said Rehmeyer.
Salmon used to be abundant in Maine rivers but due to dams, overfishing, and other factors, yearly salmon returns have dropped to 1 percent of the original population counts. Maine has the last of the wild Atlantic salmon populations of the United States.
“Atlantic salmon are a beautiful species that are endangered,” said Luke. “If we work hard enough, we can save them. We, humans, might be able to save the ‘king of fish.’”
Not all Atlantic Salmon populations are in trouble, but the Gulf of Maine population is endangered and at risk for extinction. This population still returns to Maine through rivers like the Penobscot, but it does not return farther south than Maine.
“That means that our state, and mostly the coastal region, is the only place in our country where schools can help rehabilitate endangered Atlantic salmon,” said Rehmeyer.
“We should work together to help them make the spawning site to bring back some of the population,” said Madonna.
“There has been a lot of Atlantic salmon once,” said Carter, “so let’s make it happen again!”
By May, the salmon at All Saints will develop from eggs into alevin, an immature life stage of the Atlantic salmon. The students will then release the salmon into the Kenduskeag in May.
“It is a very powerful learning experience that helps our students become better stewards of our river, fish, and related wildlife,” said Matthew Houghton, principal of All Saints.
“Our students grow to understand that stewardship of nature is crucial,” said Rehmeyer. “After all, they are going to inherit the responsibility of looking after our most vulnerable populations.”
All Saints Catholic School has collaborated with the Maine Atlantic Salmon Federation for years through the Fish Friends Program, which provides materials and mentoring to schools around Maine. For more information, visit www.fishfriends.me.