EAST MACHIAS, Maine — Years of hands-on involvement by Washington Academy students in restoring North Atlantic salmon populations in the East Machias River watershed came full circle Wednesday with the introduction of thousands of juvenile salmon in a remote Township 19 brook, fish the students helped to raise from eggs.
The four students from a Washington Academy ecology class who participated in Wednesday’s activities are among dozens who have worked with the Downeast Salmon Federation to create its East Machias Aquatic Research Center, which opened in 2011 on the East Machias River, just down the street from Washington Academy.
Washington Academy students assisted in the installation of solar panels that now power a 6,000-watt, grid-tied solar system. More recently, students helped drywall the interior of the facility, which was a long-abandoned Bangor Hydro Electric Co. generating facility.
Students have been working since January with the center’s staff of fish biologists to fabricate and operate a unique incubator system that took the salmon that went wild on Wednesday from eggs to “parr” stage, as big as seven inches in length.
“These are beautiful fish,” said Colby Bruchs, a fish biologist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, one of the professionals who assisted the students Wednesday in picking the best pools in which to gently introduce the young salmon to their new homes in the sun.
“They’ve done a beautiful job of raising these fish,” Bruchs said as he helped place a bucket of parr into Creamer Brook.
Wednesday’s outing came on a beautiful, brisk day that followed heavy rains on Tuesday. That made some of the muddy, rock-strewn back roads off Nineteenth Road in Washington County’s Township 19 nearly impassable, especially for a small school bus. Nonetheless, the small caravan bearing thousands of long-pampered salmon carefully made its way through the muck.
Wednesday’s salmon seeding was only one small element of an ongoing effort by the center that will introduce as many as 53,000 young salmon by the end of this week, according to Jacob van de Sande, the hatchery’s fisheries biologist. Last week he and other staffers used canoes outfitted with oxygenated coolers, each holding 2,000 fish, to seed areas of small streams associated with Crawford and Seavey lakes.
The center hopes to expand the research and hatchery facility next year from four nursery tanks to 10 and is eager to take delivery from the Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery in Orland of as many as 180,000 eggs, which is 100,000 more than were provided this year.
Once restocking is completed this week, the center will be mothballed until mid-January, when its staff, the students up the road and the facility’s supporters do it all again.