There’s something fishy going on at École publique de la Découverte in Val Caron.
That’s because for the past three years, students have been helping to release brook trout in Whitson River alongside their teacher Jean Lafreniere, one of three Grade 7/8 teachers at the school.
Their most recent adventure happened in early February.
Lafreniere and his students have set up a system that allows them to take fish eggs, hatch them and then release them when they are ready. They release about 5,000 brook trout eggs each time, and they release the fish twice a year.
“We hatch them, and then release them, and it’s possible we’ve put 30,000 more brook trout into that river,” he said.
Historically, Whitson River is a brook trout habitat, he said, “so, we’re not introducing a new species. We’re just making a contribution.”
In the past, Lafreniere said he and his students have also released walleye in Whitson Lake. In the spring of 2021, they released about 40,000 walleye into the lake, said Lafreniere. However, they have not been able to secure walleye eggs since then due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Raising fish and releasing them teaches the students many lessons, he said, from learning about stewardship to the biology of the fish and their habitats.
“We talk about how clean the stream needs to be because the brook trout are very sensitive,” he said. “If the habitat’s not any good, like any other species, they just can't survive.”
The kids get a first-hand, up-close lesson in biology, too, he said.
“One of the first things we notice is the eyes,” he said “So we get the eggs. And then we have these two dark spots … the eyes. And then as we keep observing, and eventually we see movement within the egg. That movement is actually the heart developing. Then sometimes once the fish hatch from the egg, we can actually see the heart a little bit better. And we see the blood vessels start forming. And then we see gills, and we see blood rushing to the gills. And we see organ development. It's really neat. So we tie it into our science curriculum.”
This year, the group found a sponsor to help pay the costs. Black Diamond Drilling has signed on with the restocking efforts,
“Everything we did this year has been thanks to Black Diamond drilling,” said Lafreniere.
In the past, some costs were covered by the school board, as well as through fundraisers efforts.
“Our principal has been very good to us,” said Lafreniere. “She's amazing. She supports all of our initiatives. Whether it's Junior Kindergarten to the Grade 8s, we have a ton of support from our principal. Perfect and at the board level as well.”
The process is just as important to Lafreniere as it is to the students. In fact, when schools were shut down in 2021 due to the pandemic, he brought home the entire system and set it up in his garage in order to keep it going.
“When we would have our virtual instruction, some days I would go into the garage and show the kids where they were progressing.
The system Lafreniere uses to raise and hatch the eggs come from Rolly Frappier, a long-time advocate for conservation, said Lafreniere.
“Rolly came up with this system, and he markets it to schools for programs like ours.” Lafreniere said. “So we work under his permit to have the eggs, and then stock the fish. This is all managed through the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Fish raised in culture stations across Ontario are released into 1,200 bodies of water every year.”