BY SHANNA FREDERICKS
A unique, hands-on conservation program - Fish Friends - has been an important part of environmental education in the classroom across Nova Scotia for many years. Coastal Action has proudly delivered this program to schools throughout the south shore region of the province since 2003, providing classrooms with hatchery-sourced fish eggs (Atlantic salmon eggs up until 2012, now brook trout eggs) and everything they need to raise their eggs to the fry stage over a 5-month period.
The Fish Friends Program was started in 1992 by the Atlantic Salmon Federation, an international NGO that promotes the conservation of wild Atlantic salmon and their environment. The program has been offered throughout Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Maine, and New England. In Nova Scotia, Fish Friends is supported by the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture’s Inland Fisheries Division and the Nova Scotia Salmon Association.
A Fish Friends Curriculum Guide, along with a presentation by our fisheries staff, provides teachers with plenty of ideas for engaging students in the program. Topics such as habitats, lifecycles, freshwater ecology, and conservation can all be woven into the program as students raise their fish. Our Atlantic Whitefish Project Coordinator, Andy Breen, has presented this program to hundreds of students over the years and the kids clearly think he’s pretty cool!
This year, Andy and Melissa Risto, our Atlantic Whitefish Fisheries Technician, have delivered a total of 2,100 brook trout eggs to 7 schools on the south shore which will be released into our local streams in June.
keeping conservation local
The key to this program’s continued success is the teachers who agree to take on this 5-month commitment. We’ve been lucky to work with some great teachers over the years who really make the most of the learning opportunities for their students. Nick Jeffrey has found many ways to connect the program to the upper elementary science curriculum for his grade 5/6 class at Petite Rivière Elementary School. Being in the Petite Rivière watershed, Nick uses this opportunity to introduce his students to the plight of the endangered Atlantic whitefish and the impacts of invasive species.
One of the greatest strengths of this program is its focus on the habitats and conservation issues right outside the school doors. Students release their fish into streams near their schools, sparking a sense of pride in their little fish population and a feeling of ownership over their stream. This is where stewardship and conservation values begin.
While the premise of Fish Friends is simple – raise fish in a tank and release them – the learning opportunities are endless, and the connection to our freshwater habitats and conservation issues in NS creates a lasting impact on our next generation of environmental stewards. If you're a teacher interested in participating in Fish Friends, please contact Andy Breen at firstname.lastname@example.org.