Students help salmon hatchery

"Ray Mergens, Madeline Churchill, Eva Denka, and Laurel Johnson place pea-sized coho salmon eggs into an egg tray that was placed in Maxwelton Creek, where salmon fry will hatch.Matt Johnson / staff photosHuddled with her classmates one January afternoon over a small white pan filled with what looked like a few thousand pink peas, fifth grader Annie Wescott was busy helping Mother Nature.Just a few feet away from the banks of Maxwelton Creek on a boardwalk at the Maxwelton Salmon Adventure's Outdoor Classroom, Wescott's class was placing hatchery chum and coho salmon eggs into hatching trays in hopes of adding another 90,000 fish to the Northwest's dwindling salmon population.Supervised by their teacher, Rene Neff, as well as Salmon Adventure volunteers Nancy Scoles and Rich Shaughnessy, about 20 school children handled the living eggs like crystal beads as they packaged them up for hatching.The job was not easy, since the children had to pull the eggs out of a pan of frigid water in the midst of a cold afternoon rain. As her fingers froze in the cold, Wescott squeezed one egg a bit too hard and forced a salmon hatching.I just picked the egg up and it hatched, Wescott said. It was pretty nasty.This is the first time in the Salmon Adventure's nine years of egg hatching that school children have helped with the process. To get the salmon eggs into their natural hatching environment, the children placed them into green, plastic trays that were divided into tiny sections resembling the dimples in a waffle. From there, the full trays -- which contained more than 100 eggs each -- were placed into floating egg boxes, which were in turn anchored in the waters of Maxwelton Creek. During the next few weeks, those eggs will hatch, sending yet another generation of South Whidbey salmon into the world.Rene Neff, who volunteers at the Salmon Adventure when she is not teaching her class, said between 10 and 20 adult salmon returned to the creek this fall. That may seem like a small number compared to the number of eggs the students put in the creek, but for a small creek, the count was encouraging.Intermediate School students have been working with salmon eggs for about five years, hatching several hundred each year in a big fish tank at the school. "

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