by LAURA HAYES
Early that morning, Oscar Hedin headed into Winona Senior High School to do a different type of homework. Walking into room 109, home of science teacher Peter Weess, Hedin headed to the corner of the classroom where a metal tank, filled with water, contained around 512 rainbow trout eggs.
Armed with a petri dish, Hedin fished out the eggs that were white.
“We have to look every day for eggs that aren’t going to survive,” Weess said. Weess explained that the eggs turned white from fungus that grows when they crack. “We pull those out fast so that it doesn’t spread.”
Throughout the rest of this semester and into the next, Hedin, along with the other students in Advanced Placement Environmental Science, will raise the trout until they become large enough to release into streams.
Weess’ AP Environmental Science is just one of many classes participating in “Trout in the Classroom.” Trout Unlimited, a nonprofit organization that protects cool water streams, sponsors this program, providing Weess with all of the necessary equipment to raise trout from eggs to fingerling. Once the trout are grown, Weess and his class will release the trout into a Department of Natural Resources (DNR)-approved stream.
“It gives us a vehicle for teaching about ecology of streams and the importance of keeping those pollution-free, because trout are such a pollution-sensitive fish,” Weess said. “I think it gives [the students] more of a connection to the curriculum.”
While all of Weess’ biology classes will have the opportunity to see the trout grow, his AP class will be the only one who will see the whole project from start to finish.
“Prior to this, I didn’t know much about trout in general,” AP student Summer Volkman confessed.
Throughout the course of his class, Weess has prepared his students to take care of the trout. While some of the class will be observing their growth, Weess said that a majority of the class will involve teaching the students about water quality.
Weess hopes to connect Trout in the Classroom to the Healthy Lake Winona Project, which his students have been participating in by testing both the lake and the streams that feed into it.
“They’re getting a full dose of what it means to have healthy water,” Weess said. “My understanding is to tie it all together so that they have an understanding of the bigger picture.”
On December 8, Weess received the eggs from a fish hatchery in Lanesboro. Currently, all of the eggs are in a basket in the tank. Students like Hedin look at the eggs several times a day to make sure to separate the dead eggs from the viable ones. The fish hatchery predicted that the eggs would begin to hatch on December 21.
In the spring, 25 will be sent to the University of Minnesota to test them for some known fish diseases, like whirling disease, which disorients the fish, making them swim in circles.
“Our survival rate is pretty low. If we get 25 percent that’s good,” Weess explained. He added that the trout had a higher survival rate being raised in the classroom than they did in nature. “Nature would be about 10 percent,” Weess added.
He said that in nature, some of the trout eggs may not be fertilized or could be targeted by predators such as insect larvae. “We can exceed that because we remove the predatory piece of it, at least in the egg and fingerling stage,” Weess said.
As of Thursday, Weess had lost about 20 trout eggs.
After the eggs are sent to the University of Minnesota, DNR officials will tell them where their trout should be released.
“Personally, I think this should be a mandatory class, maybe not to the extent like AP,” Hedin said. “The number one issue with environmental problems is the awareness of the issue. Personally, I’ve had the experience like, ‘How the heck can’t people know about this?’ … This class helps spark awareness.”
“To be honest, I wasn’t aware of most of the stuff going on,” fellow student Emily Boettger commented, adding that the class helped her become more aware of environmental issues.
“It’s being aware versus being educated about it,” Volkman said.