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Classroom-raised salmon find new home at Knights Ferry
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Fourth grade students from Dennis Earl Elementary School release nearly 200 young salmon into the Stanislaus River at Knights Ferry Friday as part of the Salmonids in the Classroom program. - photo by Photo Contributed

Nearly 200 young salmon found their new home in the Stanislaus River at Knight’s Ferry Friday thanks to the help of Dennis Earl Elementary School fourth graders and Turlock Irrigation District aquatic biologist Patrick Maloney.

Friday’s release was the culmination of this year’s Salmonids in the Classroom program, which is made possible through a partnership between TID, local schools and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. This year’s program involved about 25 classrooms spread throughout TID’s electric service territory, ranging from kindergarten through high school. The program allowed for students to view portions of the fall run Chinook salmon life cycle first-hand, starting with fertilized eggs in their classroom aquarium in January all the way through releasing salmon into local rivers Friday.

“I wanted the kids to have some hands-on learning and be able to actually observe the changes the salmon go through,” said fourth grade teacher Patty Enoki, whose class participated in this year’s program along with Nicole Sayad’s fourth graders. “I just think it’s an invaluable experience for them. It’s very engaging so the students are eager to learn.”

Enoki said that students got the chance to see the salmon hatch about three weeks ago, and on early Friday morning Maloney arrived at Dennis Earl to gather the fish into a bucket equipped with an aerator before driving out with the students to Knight’s Ferry. He gave them a quick lesson on how to properly acclimate the fish into the river so they don’t go into shock and helped each student release a fish into the water. He also caught and showed the students what kind of insects the salmon will eat as they travel downstream.

Additionally, students received a nature lesson Friday, courtesy of Maloney, who took them on walks to describe river and terrestrial ecosystems. He also gave students a brief historic overview of Knight’s Ferry that included information on Native Americans and how the ferry was utilized in the past.

“To me, there’s no greater reward than seeing the children’s eyes light up when I know they learned something and they’re excited about it,” said Maloney. “That’s what makes it all worth


Maloney has administered the program for the past five years along with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which provides salmon eggs from the Merced River Hatchery as well as permits to conduct the work. Maloney worked with educators to cater classroom presentations that begin in early fall before eggs are placed into classroom aquariums in December. Presentations covered topic areas such as the Chinook salmon life cycle, anatomy and physiology of fishes, river geology, riparian vegetation, aquatic habitat, predatory fish and even the mathematics of egg incubation.

“I teach these kids about the lifecycle of the salmon, the geography of the Sierra Nevada mountains and rivers, how salmon utilize the rivers, and the irrigation district,” said Maloney.

TID provides aquarium equipment to classrooms for the duration of the program. In all, TID has been participating in the salmonid program for 27 years.