Catfish Project Gets Students Thinking About Watersheds

The State Journal
25 February 2017
By Lauren McGill, The Herald-Dispatch

Southside Elementary School gained a dozen new wiggly youngsters Feb. 22.

As part of the Classroom Catfish Project, which was funded by a stream partners grant received by the Fourpole Creek Watershed Association, channel catfish in a 60-gallon aquarium were delivered to the school, much to the excitement of students who will be responsible for their care.

A second aquarium setup was acquired for Meadows Elementary, which also will receive 12 catfish to be monitored by students under the supervision of teacher Amanda Vaughan.

The goal of the project is to get students thinking more about water quality and the importance of local watersheds in protecting the vital resource, explained Andrew Johnson, vice chairman of the watershed association.

“There’s been success with other groups doing similar things with trout, so we felt catfish would be a great opportunity locally here,” Johnson said. “The streams around here can handle catfish, and they’re tolerant of the aquarium setting, getting raised in an enclosed system, but will have good survivability when they’re released.”
The catfish also should grow noticeably in the time they will be at the schools.

Second-grade teacher Courtney Cross said the students weighed all the catfish before they were deposited into their new tank. As of Feb. 22, the catfish averaged about 4 inches to 6 inches in length and about 18 grams in weight, Johnson said. Students will weigh them again before their release to see which fish grew and what the average amount of growth was.

At Southside, fourth-graders will be paired with second-graders to share the daily responsibility of feeding the fish, Cross said. Students also will monitor the amount of pH and ammonia in the tank weekly, which should help them understand the ways pollution and environmental factors can affect fish and wildlife, she explained.

After about eight weeks of monitoring and caring for the catfish, students will release them back to Fourpole Creek.

“All that hopefully translates into getting them to think about taking ownership of their watershed, too, as they take ownership of these fish for a while,” Johnson said.

When the Watershed Association received the stream partners grant, Johnson said they knew they wanted to put the money toward educational outreach.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection partnered with the group on the project, and permission for keeping and releasing the catfish was granted by the state Division of Natural Resources. Support was also given by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Johnson said Petsmart in Ashland, Kentucky, helped the group stick to its limited budget in acquiring the aquariums, food, filters and tank decorations.

Although students in certain grades will be more responsible for the care of the fish, Cross said all of the students at Southside will get to see the fish at school and will learn more during the school’s Water Conservation Fair, which is set for March 16.

After the catfish are released into the creek, probably some time in May, Cross said there is potential to get new, different fish for the school’s aquarium.