Chief Leschi hatchery provides hands-on lessons

This spring, students at the Puyallup Tribe of Indians’ Chief Leschi Schools pulled on boots and trekked with buckets to a nearby stream to release salmon they’d raised themselves.

For the chum salmon, the outing was the beginning of a long journey to the sea and back. For the students, it represented a new course of study focused on fisheries management skills and careers in an ongoing partnership with the tribe.

The school’s student-run hatchery gives students hands-on experience with staff from Puyallup Tribal Fisheries. Now in its third year, the students raised 10,000 fish after helping spawn them under the eye of tribal staff.

Teacher Elsie Mitchell also taught a fisheries management class this year. With the school hatchery, she said, the students became more involved in the process over time. Students also visited the tribe’s hatchery and learned practical skills only larger hatcheries can provide, learning side-by-side with biologists and hatchery managers.

“We wanted an entire class devoted to fisheries management science because it’s more focused on careers,” Mitchell said. “Kids can ask, ‘Do I like this? Do I not like it? Do I have the needed skills?’”

The students took field trips every week to learn more about real-world fisheries management. They weighed and measured fish to determine the proper amount of food to parcel out, and learned about the business of fisheries and threats to the resource.

“I wanted kids to get more hands-on, career-based skills,” Mitchell said. “They had to take more responsibility for the survival of the salmon, not just do the fun stuff like feeding or releasing, but measuring the water quality daily, shocking the eggs, picking the eggs and changing the water.”

Chief Leschi Schools students Cecilia Dillon (far right) and Javier Dillon (second from right) scoop up salmon they’d raised to release into a local stream. Photo and story: Trevor Pyle