Kenai Peninsula students raise salmon in the classroom, from egg to fry

Dozens of students oh and aah on a cold Anchor Point morning as biologists spawned a pair of coho salmon and fertilized their eggs.

It was the first lesson in the annual Alaska Department of Fish and GameSalmon in the classroomprogram that teaches salmon biology to Kenai Peninsula students throughout the school year in their classrooms.

The class at Anchor Point was one of 27 who watched biologists take eggs at Anchor River and Bear Creek near Seward last week. Students also learned about the life cycles and habitat of the Pacific salmon and learned how to identify different species based on their external anatomy.

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Courtesy of Eric Hart

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Chapman Elementary School

“These kids absolutely think that seeing a salmon and touching a salmon is just one of the most beautiful things,” said Jenny Gates, associate biologist for area management for the ADF&G Division of Sportfish in the North Kenai Peninsula. “The fact that they are bringing fertilized eggs back to their school to raise Coho causes so much excitement and smiles.”

Gates said that when students bring the fertilized coho salmon eggs back to their classrooms, they will incubate them and watch them develop through a number of different life cycle stages until they become adult fish or fry. In spring they release the fish back into Bear Creek or into a stocked inland lake.

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Courtesy of Eric Hart

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Chapman Elementary School

ADF&G staff will also guide students through fish section and ice fishing as part of the “Salmon in the Classroom” program, which Gates says has been around for more than two decades.

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She said students in the Kenai Peninsula — and throughout Alaska — already know a great deal about salmon being included in the program, given its importance to the local culture, environment and economy.

But, she said, there’s always more to learn.

“The message we’re trying to convey to students is just an attempt to promote stewardship for a very important natural resource,” Gates said. “In addition to salmon biology, there are all sorts of environmental lessons that come with our presentations.”

For Lucas Stumpf, a fisheries biologist who directs the Kenai Peninsula Education Program, this work is personal.

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Courtesy of Eric Hart

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Chapman Elementary School

Growing up in Palmer, he said he could trace his love of biology back to when he was a student in a similar program.

“I remember as a child – [in] second grade, first grade — we had a salmon dissection,” Stumpf said. “I can’t remember first grade, but I remember that day. So I think it’s something special. Some kids will really resonate.”

Stumpf said he hopes the spring intake, fish section and salmon release will encourage a similar interest in these children.

“There are several reasons why people want to be biologists, but it definitely sparked something [in me] and I hope that happens here,” he said. “Not even becoming biologists, just becoming good stewards of the land and the salmon resource.”

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