February 2, 2016
Instructor Mike Scherer, formerly of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, is helping them raise brook trout in a fish tank.
The fish eggs recently hatched and the trout are barely visible in the tank right now, but the hope is they’ll keep growing and the kids will release them into the wild at the end of the school year.
“We can see how they transform and survive,” said participant April Chamberlain.
“We can preserve native fish,” said participant Michael Aiello.
Scherer is one of the staff members from the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster that have worked for a pilot program in Gardner this school year held at the high school.
The program has about 20 participants that are fifth- through seventh-graders from the middle school.
Over this winter, Scherer has begun showing them how to raise brook trout, teaching them the environmental conditions the fish need in order to survive.
The quality of the water is one crucial element in raising trout.
“I usually test the pH and whether this water is safe or not,” said Michael.
Neutral water, not being acidic or alkaline, is measured as 7 on the pH scale, and Scherer explained to the kids that trout prefer water that is close to neutral.
Trout also need cold water to grow, ideally 50 degrees Fahrenheit or a little less. Scherer set up a cooling system to maintain that temperature and the tank also circulates the water to keep it clean and mimic a natural environment.
“It basically makes them feel like they’re in a river,” said participant Ethan Terho.
Ethan discussed how just after they are hatched, trout will use their egg as a first meal.
“When they come out of the egg they have their yolk sac. They can’t eat yet, so they just absorb that for about two weeks,” he said.
Scherer also taught them how surface water runoff can affect the water quality for trout and other species.
April caught on to the lesson quickly, explaining how sometimes the presence of automobiles can impact the water.
“The oil comes out a little from the car (leaking onto the pavement), and when it rains it goes into the lake,” she said.
She was in charge of counting the number of fish in the tank, seeing 44 little fishes that were swimming in between the pebbles of the tank, hiding as a survival instinct.
Michael and Ethan collected water samples and used ammonia to test its pH balance.
The Boys & Girls Club pilot program takes place for two and a half hours every day after school.
The focus is science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics activities, but kids also have time for homework and a snack as well.