Trout work tickles students


The fish are jumping in Jim Gilford's science class.

And if only someone could tell the brown trout to be patient, their reward will be a pristine new home in a frigid Maryland stream.

Westminster and South Carroll high schools are among a handful of schools in Maryland that are raising the trout to be released into restored Maryland streams. Mr. Gilford and his students at Westminster are attempting it for the first time; South Carroll is believed to have been among the first high schools in the state to try it several years ago.

Later this spring, the students will release the fish into a stream chosen by the state Department of Natural Resources.

"The No. 1 thing is to teach students how to research and solve a problem," such as how to raise the fragile species, which can survive only in the cleanest, coldest streams and require a high concentration of oxygen, Mr. Gilford said. The colder a stream, the more oxygen it can hold.

"The secondary goal is to do something positive for the environment," he said. "We wanted to do something that would have a good impact; either the data we collect would be helpful, or the actual fish we raise could go into a stream, maybe establish a wild population of fish."

To do this, Westminster High got a $3,500 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and raised $1,500 more from businesses and other sources. The students used the money to buy a tank and other supplies.

Westminster science students saved the $1,700 cost of a water chiller for their 800-gallon tank by combining efforts with students at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center to build one.

The career center's plumbing, heating and air-conditioning students adapted a hot-water heater and surrounded it with pipes filled with refrigerant.

Water about 55 degrees is ideal for brown trout. Keeping the tank water cold enough is one reason that most high schools choose other fish to raise, said Roy Castle, aquaculture project manager for the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

"Most of the schools have tilapia. It tolerates a lot of mistakes," he said.

Since the tanks and pipes were rigged in September, they have required some fine-tuning, which has been part of the problem-solving process, Mr. Gilford said. For example, fish escaped from the tank. So, his students adjusted the net cover so the fish couldn't get out.

Sometimes the filters and tanks overflowed, causing students to spend a whole period sweeping 250 gallons of water out of the door. The plumbing students installed a check valve in pipes running out of the filters. So far, the valves have worked.

In addition to the skill and labor, the career center also donated its old plumbing shop to the project. South Carroll High science department chairman Robert Foor-Hogue moved his classes into the old carpentry shop two years ago.

A few students at Westminster were surprised to find themselves working with glue guns, PVC pipes and wrenches in a science class.

"You learn more than just facts; you learn how to build something," said Westminster senior Jon Marinucci. "And by the end of the year, you have something to show for your work and your time. At the end of a math class, what have you got to show for it except a grade? There was nothing here when we started."

Students also are engaged in individual projects related to the fish and marine sciences.

Westminster senior Dan Horichs is studying hydroponics -- growing plants in water instead of soil -- and using fish tank waste as fertilizer.

Erica Wunderlich, another senior at Westminster, is studying bacterial colonies in the filters as a microbiology project.

Part of Mr. Castle's job is to find fish for the growing number of high schools now incorporating aquaculture into their science programs. His main sources are excess fish from state-run programs at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, and the Crane Aquaculture Facility.

The brown trout at Westminster, however, came from the Lewistown Fish Hatchery near Thurmont. The school started with about three dozen fingerlings, but about 10 died. A few jumped so high and hard they knocked the mesh tent just enough to slip out and crash on the floor.

Some of the fish became too stressed or bruised from the normal handling of students weighing them, and a few runts died of malnutrition because they were unable to compete with the bigger fish for food.

Aquaculture and other marine sciences are popular in schools now because they offer hands-on work and a chance to see the results, Mr. Castle said. At least a dozen high schools, about six ++ middle schools and even a few elementary schools are raising fish he has supplied.

A few years ago, he said, a high school in Baltimore County used aquaculture for a science class for "problem students."

"After the first year, everybody in the school wanted to take the class because they wanted to see the fish grow," he said.

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