Keeping up with tradition

El Portal students took part in annual salmon release trip to the river
Student Scarlett Kerr is shown with her fish. All the children got to release four or five fish, and they gave them silly names. Submitted photo

Student Scarlett Kerr is shown with her fish. All the children got to release four or five fish, and they gave them silly names. Submitted photo

A couple of weeks before California’s schools closed due to Covid-19, students from El Portal Elementary ventured out on their annual “Salmon Release” field trip.

As part of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s “Salmon in the Classroom” program, El Portal students hatched and raised 90 baby Chinook Salmon from eggs.

“We have high-quality aquarium equipment and a refrigeration unit, all purchased with the generous support of a Kids First education grant,” said teacher Paul Amstutz.

Once the “alevins” hatch, they feed off of their attached egg sac for around one month. Only after those nutrients have been absorbed is there a need to start feeding the fish, which are now called “salmon fry.”

“It’s important to keep the tank super clean, cold, and to maintain the proper pH and nitrate levels. This year was quite successful, with 85 fry surviving!” said Amstutz.

Within a week of the release date specified on the state permit, students pack up the fry in a bucket with ice bags, and head down to the lower Merced River near Snelling.

Students from El Portal are shown taking part in the annual salmon release field trip. Submitted photo

Students from El Portal are shown taking part in the annual salmon release field trip. Submitted photo

Just below the lowest of four dams, they let their baby salmon go, sending them off on a 200 mile swim to the Pacific Ocean.

“This insane and arduous journey, down the Merced and San Joaquin Rivers, and through the Delta and San Francisco Bay, takes several months,” said Amstutz.

If they survive, and if they can last for two or three years in the open ocean, they will return to the same spot on the Merced River as 10 to 20 pound adult Chinook Salmon.

“A truly incredible journey,” Amstutz said.

The class plans to return next year.

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