Hundreds of students, hundreds of salmon!

May 19 may have been Endangered Species Day but Maine Audubon educators spent the better part of last week celebrating and helping endangered species by releasing hundreds of salmon fry, raised in part by Maine students, into the wild.

Maine currently has the last remaining wild population of Atlantic Salmon in the U.S. Because of the dramatic decline in this species, it is currently listed as ‘Endangered’ under the Endangered Species Act. Maine Audubon and a number of schools in Maine and Canada are participating in Fish Friends, an educational rearing program overseen by the Atlantic Salmon Federation in cooperation with the region’s federal fish hatcheries and agencies.

Greater Portland Release Day

Releasing salmon fry into the Little River
Releasing salmon fry into the Little River

From our Gilsland Farm base, educators worked with the elementary schools in the Portland Public School district for the second year in a row to rear salmon. In early March, we delivered tanks and salmon eggs to nine elementary schools, and taught students about the life cycle of the salmon and the importance of this species. Students made observations and cared for the eggs as they developed into fry. We also had a tank of eggs at Gilsland Farm for the public to observe.

After gathering fry from nine elementary schools including the island schools, on Tuesday, May 16, Brooke Teller and Karen Fream from the Portland Public Schools, and Jane Affleck Fitz and Carly Rahl from Maine Audubon, released approximately 2000 tiny salmon fry into the Little River in Lisbon Falls. As the fry slid into the river, Fream read the wishes that students had written for their fry. Students at Cliff Elementary School wrote, “Watching you grow made us happy. We were so excited when you first got here. We are going to really miss you and sad you’re going to leave but you’ve grown so much and it’s time to spread your fins!”

Meghan Taylor’s third grade class at Ocean Avenue Elementary School wrote, “We are grateful for our time together in Room 206 and hope that you never forget us. We hope you survive for generations while making friends along the way. Anything you put your mind to you can achieve, including spawning multiple times. Go with the flow on your journey down the river, through the estuary, to the ocean, until you come back home again, then go against the flow! Fulfill your destiny and don’t become lunch. Now our minds and hearts are one.”

Watch a recording of the Facebook Live stream of the salmon release!

Fields Pond Salmon Release Day

With the help of students from the Bangor Christian School, the Fields Pond Atlantic Salmon fry were released May 18 into the stream exiting Fields Pond. The water from Fields Pond flows directly into the Penobscot River, which has one of the few remaining wild Atlantic salmon populations left in the U.S.

Before releasing the salmon fry, the students learned about the importance of this species to their environment. Based on Maine Audubon’s Stream Explorers program, the Bangor Christian School students then sampled the stream for bioindicators of stream health. The students had to collect macroinvertebrates and sort them into categories, one for excellent water quality, one for moderate water quality, and one for poor water quality. All the student teams found the water quality in the stream to be of excellent quality and were excited to release the baby fish into their new home!

As they released the salmon fry, the students wished them good luck on their journey, with hopes that someday the salmon fry will grow into adult fish and return to this stream to spawn a new generation. Their teacher commented that “This was an amazing experience for my students to have. Doing real science and being a part of the efforts to help restore and protect this endangered species is something they will remember.”