Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to correct the organization Fish and Game gets the salmon from for the egg take event in the Salmon in the Classroom Program. It is the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association.
Students stood on tip toes and craned their necks to get a good look at the pitcher of salmon roe mixed together with milt held up by fisheries biologist Andrew Waldo.
“Should we call this a ‘miltshake?’” he asked the 94 youngsters gathered on the bank of the Anchor River. “I think we should.”
Several teachers grinned and several students groaned at the pun used to describe one stage of the salmon egg fertilization process. It was all part of the first event in the annual Salmon in the Classroom program put on by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Sport Fish. The program intertwines education about the life cycle of salmon into the curriculum of schools all over the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
Students start by observing, and a lucky few helping with, an “egg take” in which Fish and Game staff gather eggs from salmon donated by Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association and combine them with milt from a male salmon and water. Teachers from each participating class take some of the fertilized eggs back to their classrooms, where the students spend months fostering them and watching them grow into fry.
Fish and Game also puts on several ice fishing days during the winter months, so students can understand the harvesting angle of salmon. It all culminates in a Salmon Celebration in the spring at Johnson Lake in Kasilof, where students release their now juvenile salmon into the lake.
During one of several egg takes at the Anchor River on Thursday, students from Chapman School and Fireweed Academy knew plenty about the salmon they will soon be taking care of. Dozens of little hands shot up into the air every time Waldo, fisheries biologist Martin Schuster or fisheries biologist Jenny Gates asked a question about salmon and their anatomy.
Fireweed Academy student Evelyn Sherwood, 10, got selected as a volunteer to help the biologists empty eggs out of the belly of a female salmon. Next, 8-year-old Chapman student Dawson Stokes got to help empty the milt from a male salmon, combining it with the eggs in a pitcher.
Biologists finished by adding water to the mixture to mimic what would happen in nature, in a river. Each classroom then got to go back to school with a container of fertilized salmon eggs. From there, the students will watch them grow into fry, and then into juvenile salmon which will be released at the end of the year.
Before Thursday, Sherwood hadn’t experienced taking the eggs out of a salmon.
“It was fun,” she said.
When asked what her favorite part of the experience was, she said it was “feeling its guts.” Her favorite thing about salmon is eating them.
Stokes, whose father owns a charter company, is no stranger to the anatomy of salmon. This wasn’t even his first time taking milt out of one, he said.
“My favorite part about salmon, is the salmon,” Stokes said.