ORIENT, Maine — As many fishermen know, East Grand Lake is the place to go to snag some salmon. And those fishermen have local middle schoolers to thank for that success.
The Chiputneticook Lakes International Conservancy hosted its 19th annual salmon stocking event into Grand Lake Friday with middle school students from Houlton, East Grand and Greater Houlton Christian Academy participating.
The project started in March when the salmon eggs were delivered to local schools by members of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. This year, students from Houlton, Greater Houlton Christian Academy and East Grand School in Danforth and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians participated in the project.
“The students about the life cycle of the salmon and the different stages of their grown,” said Tiffiny Chase, chairman of the salmon release committee and a member of the conservancy’s board of directors. “They also learn the husbandry of taking care of a living thing and get to see the natural environment when they release them.”
The eggs are raised in cold-water fish tanks provided by the conservancy. When the salmon reach the fry stage, the release date is planned. The release takes place at the mouth of East Grand Lake at the U.S. and Canadian Customs crossing.
“We had to put in a cooler for the fish, so the water would stay between 40-50 degrees,” Houlton sixth-grader Brandon Barton said. “We had to take the temperature [of the water] every day to make sure it was good. If it wasn’t, we would turn the cooler up.”
“We did have one problem where someone shut off the cooler,” classmate Micah Foster said. “It made the water too warm, causing the fish to hatch early.”
“The hardest part was setting it up,” Ryan Wright said. “The tank was really heavy and we had to keep filling pails with water.”
For about two months, students cared for the eggs in their classrooms, keeping track of how many eggs they began with and how many hatched.
Through its development, the fish begins to develop two black dots or eyes and then the yolk sack hatches out and it absorbs food, turning into a thread-like body. The salmon mature into miniature fish about an inch-and-a-half to two inches long before being released.
Not all of the eggs survive the growing process.
“We had 265 eggs when we started,” Victoria Gilman of East Grand said. “When we came here today, we counted 212 fish.”
Jayden Williams said keeping the tank cool was one of the biggest challenges. “We had to check on them every other class to see how they were doing,” she said.
Danlen Espenscheid said the project was a lot of fun and produced a few surprises.
“We had some fish that mutated,” she said. “Some of them had two tails and others had two heads. It was really cool to see.”
There are four lakes in Maine with landlocked salmon, and East Grand Lake is one that anglers have success fishing thanks to the hatchery and the school project that began in 1994.
Located at the International Border Crossing between the United States and Canada in Orient, students were also given a tour of the Customs barracks and enjoyed cake at the Canadian port of entry.
This story was originally published in The County.
Related: Students release Atlantic Salmon in the Kenduskeag Stream