Long journey for salmon begins at Leominster Boys & Girls Club

By Amanda Roberge
Worcester Telegram
March 7, 2012

The journey of the Atlantic salmon lasts many years and will take them to the coast of Greenland and back again before they are fully mature.

But these days, their voyage begins in some unlikely places — such as the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster. About 200 salmon eggs are calling the newly renovated facility on Lindell Avenue home.

Under the guidance of educator Mike Scherer, club members are getting a hands-on, comprehensive education about the ecological issues involving the species of anadromous fish, which is endangered in other parts of New England and has long been dwindling in population along the Connecticut River.

In fact, they will have the chance to be a part of the solution as they nurture the eggs into small fry that they personally will release later this spring.

“It’s a pretty big deal for these kids,” said Mr. Scherer, an environmental analyst with the state Department of Environmental Protection, who volunteers his time to offer extracurricular science education at the club through a state-run program called State Employees Responding as Volunteers. “They get to be a part of something really interesting and important.”

The Atlantic Salmon Egg-Rearing Program is a cooperative environmental education program designed to promote an understanding of fisheries’ restoration and management, and hands-on watershed stewardship through experiential learning in the classroom.

The program, launched in Massachusetts in 1997 by Trout Unlimited, parallels similar initiatives in other states, including New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut. Students hatch and raise young Atlantic salmon in the classroom and later release the fish in streams within their community.

The Boys & Girls’ Club is only one of about 40 hosts to the program in Massachusetts this winter, all of which will be releasing their inch-long friends into various locations within the Connecticut River watershed come spring.

“What we’re trying to do is a restore a population that no longer exists in this river,” said Dan Marchand, a volunteer from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, who delivered the salmon eggs to the group of temporary caretakers Feb. 24.

Mr. Marchand explained how to care for the eggs, what to feed them and what methods to use for observing and studying them. They will feed krill and brine shrimp to their new charges, which they will also raise themselves. They will watch for the eggs to drop to the aquarium’s rocky floor as they reach their next stage of development as sac fry. And they can take each specimen out from time to time to place it under an observation scope to see their internal biology.

But as expected, the kids had a few questions: Do you think they look disgusting? Who takes care of them on the weekend?

Club Director Donata Martin stays busy making sure that the science-minded kids have access to the supplies and equipment that is essential to their learning, and said she is thankful to all of the local businesses that have contributed to this effort.

In addition to donations from Wal-Mart and the Leominster Sportsmen’s Association, Fitchburg State University and the San Diego Foundation played major roles in making the project possible.

According to Mr. Scherer, this learning opportunity will involve three separate field trips this spring as the kids visit a hatchery in Northern Connecticut, a fish ladder and wildlife museum in Turners Falls and finally, a place to release their salmon fry.

“So far this year we’ve been doing a lot of nature walks and learning about wetlands and wildlife,” he said. “But this is a step up from that — much more intensive.”

For more information, visit www.bgcfl.org.