ASHLAND, Wis. (AP) — There seemed to be no sentimental anguish over the loss of the young ones.
"Maybe we could have a fish fry," Ashland Middle School seventh-grader Roy Turnquist said. "Just kind of ball them all up."
The soon-to-be departed in question were between 150 and 200 small lake trout, reared in a large aquarium inside math teacher Kathy Sill's classroom. The students are in year two of a 7-year project, organized by the Iron River (Wis.) Fish Hatchery, to learn math skills associated with raising fish — such as amounts of food per number of fish, the number of eggs in the tank and a range of other numerical considerations.
Sill's classes are also working with the U.S. Geological Survey to help analyze graphs and other data taken when fish in Lake Superior are caught, weighed and released. They will return to that work later this spring, Sill said.
Middle schools at Northwestern and Superior are also taking part in the project, and the Brule River Sportsmen's Club and Trout Unlimited chipped in to pay for the tank and chilling unit used to keep the water at the trout's preferred temperature.
And, despite the students' brave front, Sill said they've had some time to get used to losing the fish — but some students initially asked if they could take some of the lake trout home.
Recently, the students used BBs and milliliters of water to learn how much water is displaced when fish occupy what are known as the "raceways" at the hatchery, and also how many fish can be added to a tanker transport when the fish are hauled to Michigan, Minnesota and as far as North Carolina.
The hatchery produces 1.2 million yearling lake trout for spring stocking, and 400,000 fingerling lake trout for the fall. It also produces 100,000 fingerling brook trout and 215,000 fry, and handles more than 5 million eggs of the two species.
But on this day, there was a more ominous, but necessary, task at hand. Carey Edwards from the Iron River Hatchery, who gave a presentation to the students on the hatchery's operations, also played the role of grim reaper.
Due to the threat of diseases such as viral hemorrhagic septicemia, Edwards needed to euthanize the fish using a chemical that inhibits their oxygen intake. It is the same chemical used at the hatchery to weigh fish and take down other information, but there, once the fish are returned to fresh water, it washes off and they keep on swimming.
Yet the project will begin again next year, and Edwards said the hatchery staff is happy to participate.
"They are the future of our natural resources, so anything we can do to get them interested, we're happy to do it."
At least one student wasn't so sure. Asked a general question about his thoughts, the young man simply said, "It's weird."