Using small drinking cups, students from John J. Sark Memorial School on Lennox Island and Bloomfield Elementary School transferred tiny trout and Atlantic salmon, two and three at a time, from fish tanks to Carruthers Brook in Bloomfield Provincial Park on Tuesday.
The schools had been supplied with fish eggs from the Abegweit Biodiversity Enhancement Hatchery in Scotchfort in late January, and students observed them hatch and grow in their school aquariums through a Fish Friends project which is funded in part by the P.E.I. Wildlife Conservation Fund.
“When we’re engaging the school children, it’s a critical component to maintaining and sustaining the environment and the actual species, said Eliza Knockwood who delivered the Fish Friends program in 21 schools across P.E.I. this year. “When we engage them young, we’re preparing them for the later stages of their life, to be more aware and observant of their impacts on the environment and on the Atlantic Salmon, for instance.”
Prior to the release of the fish, Lennox Island elder Matilda Knockwood Snache led the 50 students and teachers in attendance in a traditional ceremony, which included smudging, sprinkling of tobacco in the stream, drumming and the Mi’kmaq honour song, all meant to ensure the safety of the tiny fish as they grow.
“It’s a two-step process,” observed Lennox Island student Carson Thomas. The fish that had grown in aquariums in their schools were transferred to smaller tanks to be taken to Bloomfield Park and then transferred in small containers to the brook following the traditional ceremony.
Cascumpec Bay Watershed Group coordinator, John Lane and members of his crew were in attendance to assist with the fish transfer. He explained to the students how every brook and river in P.E.I originates from springs. He shared the importance of protecting the environment.
Prior to the students’ arrival he shared how disheartening it is to see red water in streams in late fall and early spring, because it is an indication that the fish eggs that were laid in the cobble are being smothered by silt.
Lane said he appreciates the role Fish Friends is playing in supporting fish enhancement and in raising environmental awareness. “That’s why I’m involved with Fish Friends, because I know everybody is doing a little bit,” he said.
The program uses a curriculum program developed by the Atlantic Salmon Federation.
It is important to release salmon fry while they are still young, Knockwood explained, because they absorb their environment through smell, a characteristic that will lead them back home to spawn. They will remain in the stream where they are released for up to two years before adapting to become a saltwater fish at the smolt stage. They will ultimately return to their stream of origin to spawn a year or two later at the grilse stage.
“They can be out in the ocean near Greenland and find their way back,” Knockwood marvelled.