Before school let out for the summer, Unalaska students had one final task: releasing hundreds of salmon fry into Iliuliuk Creek. A small army of elementary students crested the riverbank, clutching styrofoam cups.
“No running! We don’t want the fish to fall out of the cups,” one teacher warned, as kids made their way down to the water.
The students leaned in close, tipped their cups, and poured tiny streams of coho into the creek.
The release marks the beginning of a long journey -- not only for the fish, but for the students.
Just ask science teacher Steven Gregory.
“In seven to eight years, they’ll be handing fish to their cousins or their little brothers and sisters,” said Gregory. “And they’ll remember how special it was for them to take part. ”
For 14 years, Gregory has led the school’s hatchery program. His students have a lot of responsibility -- hundreds of lives in their hands.
“They’re employees of the hatchery, basically,” he said. “They catch the fish in the fall, and they strip the eggs from the females and fertilize them with the males. They keep track of the records, do the water tests, remove dead eggs, prepare the food, and feed the fish.”
Gregory estimated his students have released 40,000 salmon. But unlike a traditional hatchery, the fish aren’t his highest priority. The students are.
“They’re ready to get jobs at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- basic entry-level tech jobs,” he said.
Gregory said students who struggle in a traditional academic setting can shine in his class.
By the time the fish are released, they walk away with a professional skill set — one that’s especially handy in a small town with a worldwide reputation for fish.