Middle school students hope to hatch trout eggs in river

East Valley Middle School students braved Friday’s rain to nest trout eggs in the Spokane River.

“They’ll be hatched,” said eighth-grader Mark Tredway on his expectations for his next visit to the river. “I hope and plead they’ll be hatched.”

The project is a partnership between the school and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency contacted East Valley Middle School and Centennial Middle School in the West Valley School District to tend to the eggs and fish until they are large enough to be released into Liberty Lake either on May 31 or June 7.

Teacher Dave Smith brought students from his general science class and his honors science class. He said the students will study a control group of eggs that will not be handled during the study as well as cages of eggs which may be turned over and moved by the students.

While students waited for their turn to place the eggs inside the cage, Amy Thompson, a geology student on work-study from Eastern Washington University, talked to the students about the ideal environment for the eggs.

Thompson explained that trees in the water help the eggs because the roots create eddies of calmer water.

“That’s a great place for the young fish,” she said. The young fish don’t swim well, and it gives them a place to hide from predators.

She pointed out a branch near the bank of the river that had been pulled down and chewed on by beavers, which could affect the young fish. Beavers dam the water, which floods the area and slows down the river. This makes it easier for predators to find and eat the fish. It also affects the water quality.

“Some fish love muck and dirt,” she said, but not rainbow trout.

Fish biologist Erin Kuttel assisted the students as they scooped bright orange trout eggs into a tube, while Tim Vore, an environmental specialist from Avista, helped everyone measure oxygen levels in the river. The eggs were transferred to small cages where it is hoped they will soon hatch. The eggs will hatch in cages so as not to disrupt the native fish populations in the river. If they happen to escape, the eggs have been treated so the fish they grow into will be sterile.

Smith’s class will return in the coming weeks to check the progress. Each student is keeping a small notebook to note pH levels in the water, oxygen levels and any changes to the physical environment around the eggs. They will also note the growth of the fish once they hatch.

Students said they are enjoying getting out of the classroom to work on a project. A few of them said they were surprised by the things they were learning.

Tredway said he had no idea there were beavers in the area. His friend Drew Ness, another eighth-grader, found the information about where the eggs must be in the river to thrive interesting.

“Fish all need calm places to chill,” she said.

Makayla Sotin said she found that interesting, too.

“The surrounding environment affects the water,” Sotin said.

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