Forty schools across the province will each get their turn for the delivery of rainbow trout eggs soon, as part of the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation’s Fish in Schools (FinS) program.
The popular program is run by the Saskatchewan Fish Hatchery, located in Fort Qu'Appelle, and involves raising trout from eggs to fry before releasing them in a provincially stocked waterbody. Saskatchewan students get a firsthand look at fish and aquatic habitats in their very own classroom.
Nelson Bergh, the Manager of the Saskatchewan Fish Hatchery located at Echo Lake, said they manage the process as close as possible to nature, beginning in October with male and female adult fish.
Using their own brood stock of rainbow trout, they collect milt, aka sperm, from the males, and they keep it separate from the eggs they express from the females.
"We manually strip the eggs out into a stainless steel bowl, and then we add the milt to the eggs for a couple of minutes to give them time to fertilize, and then the eggs are put up into an incubator for three weeks time until at that point the egg is developed enough that you can see the eye in the egg, so we can determine good eggs from bad eggs at that time," he explained.
"We enumerate the success of each individual fish's eggs. If a fish has greater than a 90% success on her eggs, we keep a few of her eggs for future broods."
He said they organize the eggs in lots and take advantage of natural temperature conditions to ensure all the same lot's eggs hatch at the same time.
"After the three weeks, some of them, we keep them on lake water, which at this time of year is two degrees so it slows the development down a bit and when we're ready for them to hatch, we'll put them on to our well water, which is 10 degrees, and that speeds up the development of it and usually within a few days they start to hatch," explained Bergh.
This type of system doesn't require the same type of monitoring as would an aquarium, but theirs is a flow-through system that takes advantage of a more natural aquatic environment.
While 100 fish eggs go to each classroom in the FinS program, to a total of 40 classrooms across the province, around three to five thousand eggs can be produced from just one average female rainbow trout.
"We are basically stocking all the rainbow trout, brook trout, brown trout, and tiger trout for the province," he noted. "We've got about 125 lakes and rivers that we stock every year with trout, so it's typically a little less than half a million trout fingerlings that we're stocking every year."
He said while the adult fish range in size from eight to 15 pounds, they can't keep as many as they get larger, so they reduce the populations through each stage.
"We've probably got 2,000 fish in that building right now, but they don't mature until they're three years of age. When they're one year old, we might keep 500 from a given year, and then when they're two years old, we cut that down to like 250, just because we don't have space to carry over so many fish. And then by the time they're ready to be spawned at that three years of age, we've cut that number down to probably like 100 fish."
Bergh noted that the ones they're not using go to their viewing pond for the summer, while others stock the lakes and rivers.
"Our sole purpose here is for the sport, for anglers. Some people eat them. Some people just catch them for the enjoyment of catching them, but potentially it can be a food source for a lot of people. "
He added they are open for tours between May and September.
The fish hatchery staff are not who make the deliveries, however. That's done by the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation.
While it is too late to sign up for the program for 2024, new schools can register to participate for January 2025, beginning on June 1st, 2024. Teachers who would like to enroll in the FinS program for next year can find more information HERE.