FISH stewardship salvages Salmon in the Classroom

September 27, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Under a plan hatched after state support for the Salmon in the Classroom program dissolved, Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery is serving as the coordinator for more than 100 schools involved in the popular program.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife used to administer the program, but after state lawmakers drained Salmon in the Classroom dollars last year, a grassroots effort formed to salvage it.

FISH is in the midst of a fundraising effort to facilitate Salmon in the Classroom. The nonprofit organization needs to raise $10,000 for the effort to succeed.

FISH Executive Director Jane Kuechle said the goal is doable and potential donors already indicated support.

How to help

Salmon in the Classroom supporters can donate to continue the program through Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery at

Classes at Issaquah School District schools, including Clark Elementary and Sunset Elementary schools, participated in the program last year. Salmon in the Classroom is not expanding to additional schools in the months ahead.

Statewide, about 500 schools statewide participate in Salmon in the Classroom during a typical year.

Salmon eggs for the program at schools in the Issaquah area come from the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery.

Questions about permitting clouded the future, but FISH and other regional coordinators intend to handle the process for educators. The state requires permits for educators to rear and release salmon.

Teachers do not pay for the permits, although the process can be daunting for newcomers.

“One of the purely fundamental things that needed to be retained was the state’s willingness to issue permits,” said Craig Parsons, a Seattle resident and Salmon Education Alliance member.

Legislators’ decision to eliminate Salmon in the Classroom saved the cash-strapped state about $440,000 in the $32 billion 2011-13 budget. The state shifted federal dollars used for the program to other fish and wildlife efforts.

“The real pinch point was, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife didn’t have the administrative capacity to manage communication with all of the schools, in terms of peer communication, permitting and recordkeeping about release sites and things like that,” Parsons said.

In the months after the state nixed Salmon in the Classroom, the Salmon Education Alliance — a coalition of area educators, fish biologists and program advocates — proposed a system of regional coordinators throughout the state to act as a liaison for schools.

The state donated tanks and chillers to schools already using the equipment for Salmon in the Classroom. However, the limited staff available at the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the prospect of additional cuts means the agency can only dedicate minimal effort to Salmon in the Classroom permits.

“With our staff workload now, without these groups being able to coordinate a lot of schools at once, it would be really difficult workloadwise,” said Josh Nicholas, cooperative projects coordinator for the department.

Organizers at state and local organizations said Salmon in the Classroom offers hands-on lessons about biology and Pacific Northwest ecosystems.

“It’s an invaluable educational opportunity for kids,” Kuechle said. “They really get to see the whole life cycle of the salmon this way and understand it. In fact, we’ve had people come through the hatchery on tours who said, ‘I participated in that program when I was in school.’ It sticks with them. They really remember it.”

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