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School of Fish

Return of the Trout

Last month, for the third school year in a roe (fish pun intended), we delivered trout eggs to local schools as part of the Trout in the Classroom program. It’s a program full of valuable lessons. Not only do students learn to raise and care for a delicate living thing, they also learn what this species needs to survive. In doing so, the children discover the importance of watershed health, and they become motivated to become guardians of the creek.

Thanks to sustained funding from SDG&E, the program has expanded over the years. When it was first funded in 2016, we launched in three schools. Now, in 2019, we have aquariums in nine schools throughout North County. The latest school to dive in is Rincon Middle School in Escondido. The 8th grade science teacher at Rincon, Bruce Peterson, is very enthusiastic about Trout in the Classroom. “I’ve always wanted to do this program, so I’m glad we’re finally able to do it. The students are loving it! These are 13-, 14-year-old teenagers, so with some things we try to teach them they couldn’t care less, but they’re really excited about the trout. And the environmental piece is great. We’re using this program to give back to the environment as a kind of service learning.”

Rincon Middle School 8th grade science teacher Bruce Peterson holds trout eggs with some of his students

The students will raise the fish in their classroom for eight weeks.  During this time they watch them hatch in their aquariums, then see them transform from yolk-sac-lugging larvae into competent swimmers as juveniles, before releasing them into the wild during a fieldtrip to Lake Miramar.  One of the reasons we targeted 8th grade when expanding into new schools this year is because this is a grade that rarely receives nature-based fieldtrips.  As Mr. Peterson points out, “We’re excited about the fieldtrip because we don’t get to do that very often. It’s a bonus. Some of these kids have never even seen the ocean, so it will be great to get them outdoors. This is huge for them.”

While releasing in Lake Miramar is nice, we’d prefer to release our trout into Escondido Creek some day. Southern steelhead trout were once abundant in Southern California creeks and rivers. Sadly, habitat degradation has decimated their population. Human impacts like runoff, litter, dams, drought, and climate change have pushed this species to the edge of extinction. When we describe trout to our students, we often refer to them as the Goldilocks fish. Like Goldilocks, these fish need everything to be just right. If water quality conditions like temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, nitrates, and nitrites are amiss in their habitat, this sensitive species can’t survive. Even if the water quality conditions were perfect, trout in the Escondido Creek would be unable to freely move up and downstream due to barriers in the creek. But with a new generation of youth in our community becoming savvy about watershed health thanks to this program, we’re optimistic our future will feature a trout-filled Escondido Creek.