Raising Salmon, Raising Awareness

Some kids learn how to raise cows or grow potatoes. This spring, 500 students in all 10 of Portland’s public elementary schools had hands-on experience raising endangered Atlantic Salmon! 

It’s all part of an educational salmon rearing program called Fish Friends, which aims to educate school children about the importance of native salmon. It is overseen by the Maine Council of the Atlantic Salmon Federation in cooperation with the region’s federal fish hatcheries and agencies. 

In late February and early March, all 10 schools, including two island schools, received and installed a tank, and then took delivery of 100 salmon eggs. Throughout March and April, students in third-grade classrooms watched the eggs develop, doing observation journaling, studying life cycles, and learning about the importance of this endangered species. Teachers at every elementary school worked hard on this project, sharing this unique experience with their students and school. 

Then in early May, the young salmon, or fry, were released into the Little River, in the Androscoggin River Watershed, so they can develop and grow while feeding in the stream.

Students at the Ocean Avenue school were happy to participate, but sad when the salmon left the school. Said one student, “What I remember about the salmon is watching them grow.  What I don’t like about the salmon is watching them go.” They all felt like they were part of an important process. Another student said, “I’m so happy that we did this project because we are helping a species increase so there are more and more of them in Maine.” 

Maine Audubon educator and program manager Catherine Griset and Portland Public School STEM Coordinator Brooke Teller have been acting as mentors for the schools and providing curriculum support to teachers. This learning is part of a larger unit in which students investigate the human connections with biology and ecology, watershed and river education, and the Presumpscot watershed in particular. This spring’s project is serving as a pilot for the program, which will hopefully continue in future years. 

The Atlantic Salmon is the only salmon native to the Atlantic Ocean, one of only a few types of fish that move between freshwater and saltwater, and one with great meaning to the Wabanaki people. Once found in almost every river north of the Hudson, now, due to habitat loss, dams, and other human impacts, the Atlantic Salmon is an endangered species and the only native populations are in Maine. 

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. For more about Fish Friends, resources, and videos, visit our web page, Fish Friends: Helping Endangered Salmon.