Saturday, February 24, 2024


They Lived: 200 Tiny Trout

About 200 three-and-one-half-inch trout fingerlings were raised from eggs by local students

By Karen Knight

ERMA – Local students defied the odds and released 200 trout fingerlings into the Toms River May 2, wrapping up a project aimed at teaching them about cold water conservation, keeping streams and waterways clear of trash, and how to better take care of the environment.
Students at Lower Cape May Regional High School and the Richard M. Teitelman Middle School participated in the state’s Trout in the Classroom project, using math and analytical skills to inspect the trout, measure acidity and chemical levels in the water, and monitor the mortality rate during the six-month project.
When teachers Kevin Hildebrandt and Paul Schulte signed up for the project, they were reminded by the state program coordinator that the program was not about raising trout, rather it was about cold water conservation. “At the end of the year, if you have one trout, you did a great job,” Hildebrandt recalled being told. “Survival is not high in this program, but that is what we expect. So be prepared to talk about this with your students.”
In a trout stream, out of 1,000 eggs, only one to two will survive, he noted. In a hatchery, out of 1,000 eggs, 900 are expected to survive. “We were told not to expect that,” he added.
“We released about 200 trout,” Schulte said, “by far the most seen by the Forest Resource Education Center. It was pretty amazing to see that many fish swim away.”
“We were one of the rare schools still with fish by late February,” Hildebrandt added, noting 150 classrooms across the state were involved with the program, “and I don’t think we’ve had any dead fish since then.
“I credit our success to changing the water constantly,” he said, “constantly monitoring the pH (acidity) levels.”
Hildebrandt said his high school math students studied the trout’s lifecycle, monitored water temperature of the tanks holding the eggs, measured pH, ammonia and nitrate levels, and determined mortality rates. He started with about 300 eggs, and more than 200 hatched.
“I noticed if we changed the water too often, more would die that week,” Hildebrandt said, noting he used filtered water in his tanks. “I think we killed too much of the good bacteria. The students were able to check acidity levels and compare them to water in natural streams.”
Schulte’s middle school Backyard Biology students performed the same tasks, using tap water in their tank. They started with similar numbers as Hildebrandt, measuring the eggs, which were about 3.5-4.5 millimeters (or about one-eighth of an inch, or the diameter of a cell phone’s headphone jack) when received.
“This was a fun project to help the state while making the students aware of how important it is that we have clean waterways,” he said.
Although not tagged, the fish were released in an area that allows further study and good chances for survival, according to Hildebrandt.
“We’re really excited about our results,” he said. “We beat the odds. We were hoping to have at least one fish and we ended up with 200. We’re already planning for next year.”
Approximately 150 classrooms with more than 19,400 students across the state participated in the Trout in the Classroom project through a hands-on approach to learning.
Through the process of raising trout from eggs provided by the Pequest Trout Hatchery, of Oxford, to fingerling size for release, students learned about the importance of clean, cold water, not only for the trout they raised but also for the other organisms, including people. The partnership between Trout Unlimited and the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife made the project possible.
Rainbow trout is a member of the salmon family and can be found on all continents except Antarctica. Rainbow trout are a popular game fish and an important food source for humans.
To contact Karen Knight, email

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