Steelhead in the Classroom, by Cliff Hart

Cliff HartAlerts

As many of you know, HASA partnered up with the Humboldt County Office of Education program “Steelhead in the Classroom” managed by Dr. Beth Chaton and Jim Stemach. They gave an insightful presentation last year about the history of the program (since the 1980’s) and their challenges with funding. We heard a lot about the benefits that the program provides and the importance to keep it going. The HASA Board approved a $4,975 grant to the program, to assist with purchasing “chillers” for the aquariums in the classroom and transportation costs to take school classes on field trips to the hatchery.

I got to see first hand the importance of this program, as one of these aquariums was located in my daughter’s 6th grade class at Cutten Elementary. Teacher Kaycee Cook told me the kids love the aquarium and help with feeding them daily. Over the past month, I visited the classroom and always observed some students looking into the aquarium, and there was excitement in knowing that the fish were growing big enough so they could be released into the Mad River.

I tagged along with the class on April 18th and it was a beautiful day to tour the Mad River Hatchery, guided by hatchery manager Shad Overton. He’s a cross between John Wayne and Don Rickles, with a funny wit and strong presence. You can tell he loves his job and sharing his knowledge with young kids. We began by touring the ladder and then explored inside the facility where Shad explained the hatchery process. The most interesting part to me was how they put air into the cavity of the fish to assist with removing eggs and then how they use a gas to help relax the adults to be handled. He explained some females return many times to the hatchery (up to 5 times he believes), and they currently have a study to examine return rates of spawned females.

After the hatchery tour, each kid got to release their steelhead fry into the river, after naming them of course. Hope “Dog” the fish survives!

I was encouraged to see the kids showing great excitement and enthusiasm on this field trip and asking many questions about this important process.

They currently have thousands of rainbow trout ready to be planted at local areas such as Freshwater Lagoon and Ruth Lake and the planting schedule is available online.

Here are a few pictures I would like to share from the trip: