GARDINER — Highland Elementary students got a real-life lesson in the life cycle of fish while visiting the hatchery in Gardiner.
The kids raised Chinook salmon eggs in their classrooms earlier this year until they hatched.
On Wednesday, the students were able to see 500 juvenile fish that had once been in their classroom aquariums.
They were also given handfuls of food to feed some fish held in rearing tanks at the Gardiner - Reedsport - Winchester Bay Salmon Trout Enhancement Program.
Boy scout leader Ike Launstein held up a series of test tubes that showed the young salmon in each of its early life stages.
Then, he pointed to a display case that had a replica of both a Chinook and coho salmon.
When Launstein explained that the students' “eggs can become a fish that big,” multiple kids replied with “wow.”
Anticipation was high when the kids found out they were going to see the fish they had raised. One girl gasped.
They lined up along the blue holding tanks with rapt attention while hundreds of little fish swam below.
First grade teacher Connie Coffman said the students were able to see where the fish were taken after they hatched in the classroom.
“They get closure here. It was like all of the sudden they were gone,” she said.
Coffman said her students are learning the life cycle in their curriculum.
“It’s a whole unit,” she said. “They've been taught beforehand and when they get here they have many more connections than they would if it was just a field trip.”
Later this year, the kids will get to go fishing in Lake Marie which will give them a further understanding of the life cycle.
ODFW STEP biologist Even Leonetti briefs students on feeding the fish at the STEP facility.
Doug Buck, who works at the hatchery, said the school has been doing the fish to fry program for three years, but this is the first year they’ve had success with it.
Buck said the hatchery releases 170,000 fall Chinook in Winchester Bay.