SCHOOL’S OUT: Teachers, volunteers scramble to save tanks full of salmon that students would be raising

(Phil Sweetland checks that coho fry from West Seattle and Gatewood elementaries, now in his carport because of school closures, are eating. Photo by Judy Pickens)

Special to West Seattle Blog
From the Fauntleroy Watershed Council

Last week, when schools began closing for COVID-19, teachers and volunteers had to scramble to save lives – the lives of nearly 2,000 coho salmon being reared by students in 13 West Seattle schools.

Knowing that their fish were too small to survive in the wild, all sought to keep school tanks going until May releases in Fauntleroy Creek. Most teachers turned to school custodians to feed the fish and provide access for someone trained to maintain healthy water chemistry.

For Arbor Heights and Gatewood elementaries, the solution was to move their fish immediately off site, one to the home of a tank volunteer and the other to Phil Sweetland‘s carport. He and his wife, Judy Pickens, help guide the Salmon in the Schools program for 73 schools throughout the city and provide particular support to participating schools in West Seattle.

When the governor extended school closures by several weeks, Roxhill Elementary and Louisa Boren STEM K-8 also relocated their fish and Phil added West Seattle Elementary‘s fish to his carport.

Teacher Andy Darring soon concluded, however, that he had to release Pathfinder K-8‘s fry five weeks earlier than planned. “It was a difficult decision to let the fish go but it was the only real choice, given the situation,” he said.

“Release dates for all other West Seattle schools remain on the calendar so students can still have that experience,” Judy said. “If classes don’t resume by late April, fry will be big enough for likely survival in the wild.”

Teachers who find they need to relocate their fish should contact Phil at 206-938-4203.

Creek no place for dogs, children

Pathfinder’s small fry will have a tough enough time surviving without having dogs in their water. Last year, experts pointed to off-leash dogs in the creek as a reason that only a handful of the coho released in Fauntleroy Park did not survive to migrate to central Puget Sound.

“Juveniles can stay for weeks near the big bridge, where students released them,” said Dennis Hinton, long-time release volunteer. “One dog thrashing in the water there can kill dozens of fry in just a few minutes.”

For habitat protection, Seattle Parks and Recreation requires dogs to be on leash at all times in the park. Also, with kids home from school, parents may be tempted to let their children pad in the water on a warm spring afternoon.

“The creek is always teeming with life, whether you see it or not,” Dennis emphasized. “It’s no place for a dog or a child.”

4 Replies to "SCHOOL'S OUT: Teachers, volunteers scramble to save tanks full of salmon that students would be raising"

  • Jack March 19, 2020 (2:46 pm)

    You find hero’s everywhere! Thank you Phil and Judy! My owl will be so happy to know their fry are safe and sound.

  • CM March 19, 2020 (5:54 pm)

    So, is this something that would benefit from either more volunteer effort or financial help?

  • Yma March 19, 2020 (7:12 pm)

    If you need another home/carport – we’re pretty good fish stewards ( albeit large, very large, goldfish) Teach us what is needed, specifically, for the fry. Would love to help

  • Judy March 20, 2020 (7:56 am)

    Thank you, CM, for thinking of Salmon in the Schools as a possible beneficiary of more volunteer effort or financial help.  We are okay with both.  The city employs a great technician who normally aids participating schools elsewhere in the city and most of them have released their fish early, leaving her with the time and skill to help teachers still trying to keep their fish.  For teachers who decide to gather a few students to release in Fauntleroy Park, our release volunteers are available if they need them.  We’re trying mightily to grow these coho as long as possible so they will have a fighting chance in the wild and so that students who can stay engaged benefit.

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