Something Fishy Is Going On Petaluma

May 12, 2017
What did high school mean to you when you were a kid?

School is reading, writing, and arithmetic packaged to teach kids how to pass tests, so they can get good grades and go to college and get jobs. School work used to be paper and pencil. Now it's electronic on computers, but the basic principles and abstract concepts are still there and most have very little practical value.

How and what we force kids to learn is a weakness in our educational system, for as Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner has shown, there are at least nine different kinds of intelligence including naturist intelligence which includes being able to appreciate nature, and recognize the difference between different kinds of animals, birds, plants, fish and stones.

We must educate kids about environmental conservation, not just giving kids facts, but getting kids outdoors as much as possible including, if possible, getting their hands dirty and maybe even bloody growing and harvesting some of their own food. This concept is catching on and Casa Grande High School in Petaluma, California, which is located at the north end of San Francisco Bay, is an example of what is possible who you bring fish into the classroom.>
Kids planting erosion control in the gully that fed Adobe Creek.
Back in 1983 Tom Furrer, a biology teacher at Casa Grande High School, took his students on a walk along Adobe Creek that's near the school. He told them in the old days salmon spawned there and showed them some pictures. The students volunteered to clean up the creek. They started by removing over 25 tons of trash. The following year a few spawning salmon did make it into Adobe Creek.

That inspired the kids to set a goal of raising $6,000 to convert an abandoned campus green house into a student-run fish hatchery with two 2x6 troughs. They began a campaign of car washes, cake sales, raffles, lawn mowing, and fund-raising dinners. The California Department of Fish and Game chipped in at least $50,000, and the community contributed materials, construction services, and manpower as well as dollars. In six years the United Anglers of Casa Grande raised over $510,000.

April 25, 1993, the United Anglers of Casa Grande High School opened the doors of their state-of-the-art, on-campus fish hatchery – one of 3 nationally with a federal permit – to raise endangered fall run Chinook salmon.

In the following decade the United Anglers of Casa Grande raised and released over 300,000 Chinook salmon and the entire seven miles of Adobe Creek have been restored.

In 2003, a Jr. United Angler program began to enable high school students to teach the younger generation about what they are doing in the community. The Juniors program allows the younger grades to also raise fish in their classrooms. At the end of the year, High School and Junior students release some of their fish together.>
Adult salmon are trapped for tracking and gathering eggs.
Tom Furrer retired in 2011. His place has been taken by Dan Hubacker, a former UACGHS student, who went off to college, got a teaching degree, came back and became a teacher.

Hubacker says, "The students have been averaging gathering between 20,000 and 40,000 Fall Run Chinook Salmon eggs a year, collected from either returning adult Fall Run Chinook Salmon in the Petaluma watershed, or they're provided by Feather River Fish Hatchery out of Orville, which is managed by one of the United Anglers Alumni who we work closely with."

Recognizing the kids progress, two years ago National Marine Fisheries said that they could use some help with research on Chinook salmon in the Petaluma River. So, the kids have learned to use electrofishing to collect tissue samples and tag fish, and then during the summer months, they count juveniles in pools in the river, and in drought years they may catch young fish and take them to the hatchery to raise them until they are ready for release into the Bay.

Hubacker says "We are currently tagging our Chinook Salmon with a Coded Wire Tag. This program allows our students to work side by side with professionals in this field. Students tag about 20,000 Chinook salmon fingerlings each year. These coded wire tags are placed into the cartilage in the snout of the fish and have a corresponding code with our site. The fish's adipose fin is removed to identify those that are tags with the hopes that if they get caught when returning the commercial fisherman or angler will notify DFG so we can get some accurate stats of what is happening to our fish.">
A huge steelhead that will be returned to the Russian River.
Hubacker says, "One year we had a large group of adult Chinook Salmon come up Adobe Creek. This species is usually found in the main branches of the Petaluma River. On two separate occasions a Chum Salmon has been captured by the students."

National Marine Fisheries was so impressed that they also said they would like Casa Grande to switch from raising fall run Chinook salmon to helping the Dry Creek Hatchery in Sonoma County, which is run by US Army Corps of Engineers, restore the Russian River steelhead run. Casa Grande High currently is raising 20,000 Russian River Steelhead trout in collaboration with the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Do your kids really want to go school? There is intense competition to join the United Anglers elective class. To qualify, applicants must ace a written test and demonstrate an abundant concern for the environment. If they get accepted there definitely are payoffs.

Recently the University of California College System has approved Casa Grande High classes running the hatchery as being qualified to count for college admission credit. This is the only school program in California of its kind. According to Hubacker,

"A UC approved course means that the curriculum has been reviewed by the UC system and determined that this prepares students for entry level college lab sciences. In order for a student to be eligible for going to any State or UC they have to complete a minimum of 2 years if not 3 years of a lab science. Students would typically have the option of Biology, Physics and Chemistry or an Advance Placement course. With this advancement the hatchery classes become a class and our enrollment has doubled."

And, if kids don't want to go directly to college, the two-year hands-on program Casa Grande offers is also considered a Career Tech. Ed. class where on graduation kids are ready to go and work for hatcheries and as research assistants.

Nation-wide, there are growing number of schools who raise fish in classrooms and release them into the wild. Michigan's Salmon In The Classroom has 35 participating schools --,1607,7-153-10369_50075---,00.html Atlantic Salmon in East Coast Schools has over 100 schools involved -- And a number of schools in Canada who are raising and releasing salmon. Similar classroom fish hatchery programs in other states include tilapia, perch, trout and paddlefish. The Casa Grande program sets the bar for what is possible.

The annual cost to run the Case Grade program was about $50,000 a year, but that has more than doubled to $130,000 due to new assignments. The prime sponsor is the annual USCG Pasta Feed, which has become the largest fundraiser in Petaluma, but donations are always welcome.

If you are interested in a tour or would like to receive more information regarding the United Anglers of Casa Grande High School, please call or write: United Anglers of Casa Grande High School, 333 Casa Grande Road, Petaluma, CA 94954. (707) 778-4703 (707) 778-4703

--James A. Swan, Ph.D.