FAQs – Hatching Rainbow Trout VS Steelhead Trout

Steelhead eggs for teachers in the STEP program (Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties) are not available again this year due to a fungal issue at the hatchery. CDFW is making rainbow trout eggs available to all eligible teachers as an alternative. The response from teachers so far is very positive.

Below is a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) I am receiving from teachers. Please feel free to ask more questions and they can be included here.

What are the differences in raising rainbow versus steelhead trout?

The fish are identical in almost every way. Your existing equipment is fine and you hatch and raise rainbow in the same manner as steelhead trout.

Why are steelhead not available again this year?

There are a series of unfortunate events occurring at the hatchery – most notably a fungus that has put the fish and eggs under quarantine. Both the State and Federal agencies are not allowing release of eggs or fish from the hatchery at this time.

Is it true that releasing steelhead helps rebuild the population while releasing rainbow trout just provides food for predators or fish to be caught by anglers?

Almost every fish released as a part of the classroom incubation program will become food for a predator regardless of whether you release salmon, steelhead or rainbow trout. The process of hatching and releasing fish in classrooms is an educational program and not intended to supplement fish stocking or restoration efforts. The value of raising fish in the classroom has more to do with what happens in the minds and hearts of the student than in the lake or river where the fish are released.

Will using my tank for rainbow trout “contaminate” the equipment and make it unusable should steelhead be available in coming years?

Absolutely not. Steelhead and rainbow are essentially the same fish. You should use the same protocols for cleaning your tank as you do every other year.

My school is on break during the time I will have the eggs – will this be a problem?

The fish and eggs should be fine if left unattended for a week although you are encouraged  to check on your tank every few days. It is unfortunate the students will miss an entire week with the fish, but this is unavoidable

Why the short notice?

We waited as long as possible in the hopes the problems at the hatchery would be rectified and steelhead eggs would be available.

Why can’t I release the fish in the same place I did in previous years?

These fish are of a different genetic strain than the fish used in the past and may only be released into lakes that has been evaluated as appropriate for these fish. The release of fish is carefully monitored by State and Federal agencies.

For many teachers, especially those in Santa Clara County, the release sites for rainbow trout will be easier as the release sites are closer to the school and to where students live.

Do I need to re-submit my 772 application?

No you do not. All you need to do is send an email answering the two questions outlined in the email sent to you on 3/5/15. CDFW staff will update your file and generate a new permit for you.

Why do I have to pick up the eggs instead of having them delivered to my classroom?

Volunteers from the STEP program have provided the egg delivery service to your classroom for many years. They are opting to not participate in the program this year. CDFW is working with other organizations to create a series of egg pick up sites to give teachers as many options as possible.

Can someone else pick up my eggs for me?

Absolutely. You may have a co-teacher, parent, spouse or friend pick up the eggs. They will need to arrive and tell the staff who they are picking up for.

What do I need when I pick up the eggs?

CDFW hatchery staff and volunteers will pack the eggs for transport for you. You will need to arrive with a small ice chest (with some ice). Ideally, the eggs should be placed in your tank the same day you receive them.

Have other teachers successfully hatched rainbow trout?

Rainbow trout are the most widely hatched fish in classroom aquariums, Presently there are over 250 classes in the Bay Area alone incubating these same eggs with great success.

Will steelhead eggs be available next year?

At this time, we do not know.

Have other teachers made this switch?

Last year teachers in Sonoma County faced a similar issue and were also offered rainbow trout as an alternative. Almost all of the teachers in that program opted to hatch rainbow trout and had a very successful year. They taught many of the same lessons and felt the it was a success. Many of those teachers inquired about continuing with rainbow trout in the future.

When will the fish need to be released?

You may keep the fish for up to 6 weeks after hatch – this would make the final release date May 13, 2015

Do you have more questions? Send them to ethan.rotman@wildlife.ca.gov.

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More Painless Poetry

At our teacher workshops, we have been doing water-related Painless Poetry.

Try this with your students – put them in groups of 4 – 5, have each write a word or phrase that relates to water or fish, then have them work as a group to combine them into a poem. Here are some examples from a recent teacher workshop:


2 hydrogens & an oxygen

Splash! A rush of cool refreshment

The current flow is swift

Water gives life

Image result for flowing water

What are sustains life

Crystal clear effervescence

Flowing wet creek sparkling bubbles

River flowing clear and fresh

Image result for flowing water

Clean water

Quenches thirst

Rushing, moist mist

Flows over rocks


Image result for flowing water

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The Bay AREA Trout-in-the-Classroom Program leads the nation

The Bay Area is home to 10% of all classes that hatch fish nationwide. That is an amazing statistic and due to the dynamic work of our partners. There are 23 organizations that work hand-in-hand with the Department of Fish and Wildlife to make this program a reality here in the San Francisco Bay area.

This good work has not gone unnoticed.

In 2012, the American Fisheries Society delivered an award for an Outstanding Aquatic Education Program. Dan Nygren, the President of the American Fisheries Society, flew out from Kansas to present the award to us the Fish & Game Commission meeting.  Justin Cutler, from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, pointed out that we “give students a reason to care about watershed health.” Chuck Bonham, the Director of Fish & Wildlife, praised the efforts of teachers, staff and flyfishers saying, “We can do all the biological, legal and policy work imaginable, but we need to inspire and touch the soul of our children and their children.  Reaching students is central to our success.

In 2013, The Aquatic Resource Educators Association recognized the Bay Area Program as an outstanding example of a partner-based aquatic education program. This award was given to the Northern California Council Federation of Fly Fishers for their outstanding andlong term support of the program.

Keep up the good work folks! We are making a difference.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Hatching Fish In The SF Bay Area

What do I need to do to get eggs again this year?
This is easy-peasy – every year you need to apply for a new permit. The application form has changed a bit this year. Fill this out and submit either to your sponsor or to CDFW at the address listed on the back. Most sponsors want to help teachers by collecting and tracking the permits.

I can’t remember who my sponsor is or if I even have one –what do I do?
Almost all teachers in the Bay Area program have a sponsor who is active in supporting the classroom project. Check your permit from last year and you will find the name of your sponsor (the organization) and your coach (the individual). If you can’t find this, email Ethan and he will look it up for you.

I already took the training, do I need to do it again?
Teachers are always welcome to attend a training workshop as a refresher (usually at no cost), however, this is not required. As long as you have hatched fish within the past 3 years and complied with all the terms of your permit (including returning it at the end of the season) you do not need to be retrained.

When should I plan on the eggs arriving and releasing the fish?
Rainbow Trout eggs are scheduled for delivery the week of February 23rd, 2015. If you allow about one week incubation in the classroom, the eggs should hatch around March 1st. We recommend release 4-5 weeks after hatch (the week of March 30th or April 6th) and you must release no longer than 6 weeks after hatch.

Steelhead eggs pick-up dates from Warm Springs Hatchery are posted on the website. We recommend release 4-5 weeks afterwards and you must release no longer than 6 weeks after hatch.

Steelhead eggs from MBSTEP are less predictable and we do not know those dates at this time.

Why do some teachers hatch rainbow trout and other teachers hatch steelhead trout?
We are fortunate in the Bay Area to be able to provide steelhead and rainbow trout eggs to schools, depending on where the school is located. It is important to remember that all teachers in the Bay Area hatch trout – steelhead are anadromous and go the ocean while rainbow are the same fish but remain in lakes.

Teachers in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties receive a strain of locally spawned steelhead that can be released into local streams (but NOT lakes).

Teachers in Santa Cruz and Santa Clara County are given a strain of steelhead eggs from the San Lorenzo River system and these fish must ONLY be released into this watershed (thus the reason Santa Clara teachers must haul their eggs over the hill and are not able to release locally).

Teachers in most of the Bay Area receive a common strain of rainbow trout that can be released into most (but not all) lakes. These fish CANNOT be released into local streams.
All fish much be released in accordance with your 772 permit – there are no exceptions.

I heard there is a new teacher resource packet – how do I get one?
Yes – we have created a new packet full of great info and ideas for you. These will be distributed to teachers through your sponsor. Be sure to ask!

I also hear there is a new “educational activity” which is like a board game on the life cycle of rainbow trout – how do I get a copy?
Again, these will be distributed through your sponsor. Ed Huff (the same person who created the posters and multi-media shows) worked with CDFW staff to create a really fun educational activity for students. Students move their fish around the board in a race to the redd.

We were unable to get steelhead eggs last year– what should we expect this year?
The drought played havoc with classes that hatch steelhead last year. We were unable to provide steelhead eggs for teachers that normally receive them from the MBSTEP program (Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties) or from Warm Springs Hatchery (Sonoma and Mendocino Counties).

Most teachers in the Warm Springs program opted to hatch and release rainbow trout as an alternative and this worked out well. Teachers in the MBSTEP program were not given the option of rainbow trout, so they sat the year out.
While I hope steelhead eggs will be available this year, I will again make a contingency plan to provide rainbow trout eggs for all teachers.

I have a co-worker who wants to be in the program – what should I do?
Some of the training workshops for this year are already full but there are some spaces open in select areas. Here are some links:

Teachers in the East Bay (includes Tracy and Vallejo)
Teachers in Marin, San Francisco, or the Peninsula (includes Napa)
Teachers in Sonoma County
Teachers in Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties

I love the program and want to do more with my students; where can I find new ideas and resources?
There are tons of great materials, curriculum, lists of books and other resources available for you on our website and on the TIC Blog.

I go to the website and it gives me a warning; what is happening?
www.classroomaquarium.org is a mirror site that redirects you to www.wildlife.ca.gov/caep. Both links take you to the same place. Unfortunately www.classroomaquarium.org was hacked and while the site is clean, some computers with certain browsers receive a warning and we have been unable to determine the cause of the warning. You may use either link as they both go to the same place. We are still working on solving the problem and thank you for your patience.

I never received a copy of the “WILD About Trout” multi-media shows – can I get a copy?
Absolutely! The 5 slideshows are available in English and Spanish, are correlated to standards, connected to the posters you should have received, and are available to you at no-cost. Just ask your sponsor or send me an email.

I have some cool curriculum and ideas – is there a way I can share with other teachers?
GREAT.  You can post these to the TIC Facebook page or send them to Ethan and ask for them to be posted to the TIC Blog.

Is there a way I can stay in touch with other teachers who also hatch fish?
The easiest way is to “like” the TIC Facebook page – this keeps you in touch with other teachers and coaches. Sometimes if you have a question or problem, this is the fastest way to get a response.

I really appreciate the help of my sponsor and coach – is there something I can do to thank them?             
Coaches provide valuable support – helping with the permitting, delivering eggs, setting up the aquarium, talking to your students, troubleshooting problems and so much more. They do this because they want to share their love of streams and fish with your students. In general, they love getting letters and cards from students. You may want to ask if you can attend a club meeting to share your class’ experience hatching fish.

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An Open Letter From A Teacher To Her Sponsor

Derrell  – I would like to publicly thank you for your investment in my classroom over the past four years. Although it may not seem like much to you, your support and encouragement in the classroom has been appreciated by many students. Technically, I calculated 500+ students who were given a chance to witness the life cycle of a native species and learn a bit more about how to protect and enjoy their ecosystems.
I very much appreciate you as my sponsor for many reasons, however, I will start with you providing the essential equipment necessary to easily bring fish into the classroom. Many teachers are nervous about these adventures and your support with these tanks is imperative to their success. I will never forget the time you switched the chiller on my tank and saved the day!
Another thing you provide for teachers, as a sponsor, is the first-hand experience with these fish and their habitats. When a fly fishermen sponsor takes the time to come into the classrooms, the students feel a sense of importance and I find are more willing to listen, ask questions, and learn. You have a bigger impact than you think – my old students from the charter school still talk about your visit.
Derrell, thank you for all you do. Thank you for your support, time, smiles, and great conversations. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to expand this program with both of our organizations. I’m even more excited to say the team of teachers, administrators, and students are too. I can’t wait. See you soon!

Amy Di Maggio

Derrell Bridgman is with Tri-Valley Fly Fishers and is one of the first sponsors to support teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Amy Di Maggio teaches in Oakley and had been developing TIC curriculum with CDFW for years. This year, she is leading the charge to have all teachers in two middle schools to hatch fish. Amy is developing curriculum so students study a new aspect of fish in each of the three years they cycle through this experience.

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What If All The Fish Die?

The Trout-in-the-Classroom program is a learning experience about watersheds and raising awareness of California fisheries. It is important to understand that sometimes, no matter how much care is taken, none of the fish survive. The program is not intended to be a stocking program. Also, know that Salmonids in the wild face a difficult lifecycle and they naturally have low survival rates. For every 2,500 eggs laid, only two will survive to become spawning adults. In the classroom/aquarium environment, we usually expect survival rates to be higher than they would in the wild, but it is common to lose a few fish at each lifecycle stage. Eggs, alevin or fry may not survive for a variety of reasons, including genetics, environmental factors and general defectives.

What we do know is that Salmonids must have cold, clean, highly oxygenated water to survive. Common reasons for sudden fish loss include:

  • Power outages (depleting oxygen levels and increasing water temperature)
  • Unplugged or broken chiller (increasing water temperature)
  • Unplugged or broken pump/power-head (depleting oxygen levels)
  • Introduction of outside chemicals (contaminating the water)
  • Changes in water quality (possibly decaying fish that have not been removed or overfeeding)
  • Improperly assembled equipment (fish get drawn into pump or burrow under the under-gravel filter)

The exact reason for fish die-off cannot always be pinpointed. Use the experience as a teaching tool, a mystery the kids can learn valuable lessons from trying to solve.


Could it have been temperature?

Questions for Students: What could have caused the temperature in the tank to rise or fall out of the salmonids preferred range?

Salmonids requirement: Salmonids prefer water temperatures between 45 – 55 degrees F. While they are tolerant of slightly warmer or colder temperatures, a sudden change in water temperature can shock or kill the fish.

In the Classroom: A power outage or unplugged unit may have caused the chiller or incubation unit to turn off for an unknown period of time, thus causing the water temperature to rise.

In Nature: Talk about what things in nature could cause river or lake water to fall outside of the desired temperature range. Common factors are loss of shade trees, low water level during drought, lack of snowmelt or thermal pollution from nearby industry.


Could it have been low oxygen?

Questions for Students: How do low dissolved oxygen levels affect fish? What might have caused a change in oxygen levels in the tank?

Salmonids requirement: Like all living things, salmonids require oxygen to survive. Dissolved oxygen (DO) in the water allows fish to breathe, and adequate oxygen flow is necessary for the development of fish, eggs and alevins require an even higher level of DO than fry.

In the Classroom: A faulty powerhead or interrupted electrical power can cause the dissolved oxygen levels in the water to become very low. An insufficient flow of oxygenated water to eggs and alevin during early life cycle stages can cause delayed or stalled development. Also, some powerheads may be too small and unable to meet the needs of the tank size. Furthermore, warmer water holds less DO, so tank temperature can affect DO levels.

In Nature: Silt and sedimentation of water through erosion causes higher turbidity (cloudiness), which warms water by increasing the absorption of sunlight and lowers DO levels. Loss of shade and factors listed above that would increase water temperature would decrease DO. Increased levels of phosphorus or nitrogen cause algae and plankton growth; decomposition of dead algae and plankton utilize oxygen and decrease DO levels. Forest fires or use of fertilizers in a watershed can also cause changes in DO.


Could it have been a pollutant or poor water quality?

Questions for Students: Was the die-off sudden, or did it happen gradually over time? What could cause sudden changes in water quality? Could the water have been contaminated by a chemical? How is the closed system of a classroom aquarium different than the river system?

Salmonids requirement: Salmonids require clean water with a close to neutral pH and are sensitive to changes water chemistry.

In the Classroom: Removing dead eggs, alevin and fry, regularly cleaning pea-gravel and changing water prevent the buildup of wastes and toxins in the tank. The presence of dead or waste materials may lead to increased nitrogen levels or decreased pH, causing gradual die off. Overfeeding fish leads to excess food that is not consumed, causing changes in water quality. The introduction of outside chemicals (intentionally or by accident) causes rapid change in the water quality, which can shock or kill the fish.

In Nature: Pollutants from roads, developments and landscapes are transported to waterways by runoff. Pavement and other impervious surfaces collect oils, metal compounds, and chemicals that run into streams during rainfall. Agriculture and landscape maintenance practices use pesticides and herbicides that contaminate runoff and soak into groundwater. Pollutants and chemicals can affect salmonids directly, causing health problems and developmental impairment, or indirectly, by depleting native insect populations and altering the ecosystem.


Using Games as a Teaching Tool

Using natural survival games and activities to help illustrate the difficulties of the Salmonid life cycle is a good way to address high mortality rates. The Project WILD Aquatic activity ‘Hooks & Ladders’ is a good activity that illustrates natural survival in a fun and engaging manner.


In Conclusion

Losing all your fish is an unfortunate occurrence, but as shown above it doesn’t have to be the end of your teaching experience. You can still take your field trip and engage in other lessons. If near one, you could visit a hatchery. Just encourage the students to apply the knowledge they learn to their everyday life and the world at large. Things like conserving water, cleaning up litter, and keeping pollution out of our storm water systems (gutters, roads and drains) help all the living organisms in our watershed.


This article was written by Molly Schnur, CDFW

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So What Do I Do With Classroom Animals At The End Of The Year?

Animals in the classroom can be a great teaching tool – but when the year is over, many teachers are faced with the question of what to do with these critters.

Intentional release of animals can be environmentally disruptive:

  • Non-native invasive species may compete aggressively with California natives for survival
  • Even though an animal may be native or endemic to your area, it may harm the existing gene pool if released.
  • Individuals from one area may harbor diseases or pests to which local populations (or other local species) are vulnerable

Do not release classroom animals into nature. While this may seem humane at the time, most animals released into the wild become dinner for something larger in a very short amount of time. You will also be in violation of state law unless you have a permit to do so. Remember, you do have a permit to release the steelhead or rainbow trout you hatch as part of the Trout-in-the-Classroom program.

Here are some suggestions on what to do with your classroom animals:

  • Send the animal home with a student to baby sit for the summer
  • Call local pet stores to see if they will take the animal
  • Call your local animal shelter or humane society
  • Keep the animal at your home for the summer ready for a new batch of students in the fall

It is important that you follow your local, state, and federal guidelines and regulations for handling and caring for live organisms in your classroom—and for dealing with them after your use. We do not advocate releasing live organisms into the outdoors.

Call the Department of Fish and Wildlife at (707) 944-5500 if you have questions.

Here are some additional resources that may be helpful:

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