As a lifelong fisherman, Jeff Verbonitz of Altoona appreciates the lessons his daughter is learning from raising brook trout in biology class.
Debbie Verbonitz, 15, is one of 130 ninth-graders at Altoona Area Junior High School who've been following the trout since they were brought to the classroom as eggs in November. She brings her digital camera to class to give her father and grandfather, who's also an avid fisherman, updates on the trout.
"I think it's good - it's not just educational, but it's also the fact that gives them ... other things than just book work," Jeff Verbonitz said. "It's the hands-on experience of raising something, and they're leaving it go out into the wild, where they can produce others."
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Clyde Welsh, manager of Reynoldsdale State Fish Hatchery in New?Paris, moves a net of golden trout in the waters at the hatchery. Reynoldsdale produces fish that are released into waters in the southwestern corner of the state.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Jerry Green, president of the John Kennedy Chapter of Trout Unlimited, uses a siphon to pump old water from the fish tank in Jessica Hogan’s ninth-grade biology classroom at Altoona Area Junior High School.?Watching Green from left are students Brandon Meukel, Debbie Verbonitz and Mike Misto.
AAJHS biology teacher Jessica Hogan coordinated the project, officially dubbed Trout in the Classroom, with the John Kennedy Chapter of Trout Unlimited, which serves Blair, Cambria and Huntingdon counties. Trout Unlimited supplied the 55-gallon tank, fish eggs and all of the supplies needed to raise the trout.
The project was made possible through a grant from the Penn-sylvania Fish and Boat Comm-ission, said Jerry Green, president of the John Kennedy Chap-ter. Green and other Trout Unlimited members have been visiting the classroom three times a week since the eggs were brought in, to help with tank cleaning and removing the dead eggs and fish.
"Text books can tell them what should happen," Green said. "But they can see what actually happens when we bring the eggs in."
- Aquaculture in Pennsylvania takes many forms, from trout hatcheries growing trout for food or sport fishing to brightly colored goldfish and koi sold as ornamentals used in landscaping ponds.
- The commodity price of all fish in Pennsylvania hatcheries is $11 million.
- Pennsylvania ranks No. 1 in the U.S. in fish distributed for recreation.
- The state ranks fourth in trout production.
- There are 170 fish propagation licenses in the state; about 40 of those are larger scale hatcheries with two to 10 full-time employees.
Source: Charlie Conklin, aquaculture coordinator, Pennsylvania
Department of Agriculture
The trout have been a powerful education tool, Hogan said, in teaching everything from reproduction to environmental sciences.
"They don't have to be world-class anglers to see how clean air and fresh water impact everything," Hogan said. "That's been my goal."
On Tuesday, the trout will be released into a stream on the property of Clover Creek Farm in Martinsburg. The students and Trout Unlimited representatives will make the trip, and Green said he plans to teach the kids about stream ecology while he's there.
Like the ones the students will be releasing, almost all of the trout in Pennsylvania's streams are raised in captivity, said Jason Zorn, hatchery manager at Laurel Hill Trout in Osterburg.
"(Trout reproduction) doesn't happen here in the streams," Zorn said. "We have some wild brook trout, but we don't have the geology like they do out West, where they can hatch on their own. There's a lot of acid mine drainage in the area, and the water sources aren't good enough. They either dry up or the temperatures get too warm."
Laurel Hill raises around 100,000 pounds of rainbow, brown and golden trout each year, Zorn said, and those fish are sold to private fishing clubs. The trout released in public streams are raised in state-owned hatcheries, like Reynoldsdale State Fish Hatchery in New Paris.
Hatchery manager Clyde Welsh said there are seven state trout hatcheries in Pennsylvania; his facility serves the southwestern corner of the state.
On average, Welsh said, it takes 18 months and $2.70 to raise a fish; Reynoldsdale produces 200,000 trout a year. All of those fish are raised for sportsmen.
"They're there for people to catch and take home and eat and that kind of thing," Welsh said.
The state invests in the trout because of the tourism and recreation dollars sportsmen spend, Welsh said, and fishermen like Jeff Verbonitz are glad they do.
"It's an activity that doesn't take much to do - it's not something you have to go out and spend money to have this and that to do this," he said. "It's fun, and it's something everybody can do, whether they're an avid sportsman or somebody who just wants something to do for the day."
Mirror Staff Writer Ashley Gurbal is at 946-7435.