Ken Dollinger has a penchant for piscatorial pursuits. In other words, he's a big fan of fish.
The McMinnville resident is a volunteer for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Northwest Steelheaders' Association and National Wildlife Federation. As a volunteer he visits local elementary schools as part of ODFW's Eggs to Fry program. Since last fall, more than 140 schools have participated in the program, which involves rearing salmon and trout from egg stage to fry that are released in area streams and rivers. Dollinger is the primary volunteer for schools in Yamhill County.
On a recent weekday, Dollinger visited Antonia Crater Elementary School in Newberg, where he was tasked with exposing teacher Jenny Smith's fourth-grade class to the wonders of fish science.
"I like fish," he told his young charges. "I like fish. They're important to the environment, they're fun to look at, they're interesting, they're fun to catch and they're fun to eat."
His endorsement elicited mixed responses from the youngsters.
"Eww!" exclaimed a young girl.
"I love fish. Rainbow trout are delicious," answered her male counterpart.
Dollinger carefully explained the life cycle of the salmon eggs he would later deposit in a small aquarium near the front office of the school.
"What's really fun is that when they hatch the fish (have) little egg sacks … their bellies are actually yolk, egg yolk," he told the students. "When they get to the point where they run out of the little 'lunch box' they have, the food that's in their belly, then they will end up being real fish and be released."
The fish progress from "eyed eggs" to the alevin stage â€“ an egg with fins. "That's what they're going to eat off to stay alive for a couple of weeks," he said of the egg attached to the body of the fish. Eventually they become "sack fry," then finally the "swim up fry" that will be released.
Dollinger said the eggs might hatch within a couple of days after being placed in the aquarium, due to the difference in water temperature from where they had been stored and the aquarium at the school.
"Normally, it takes a week or two for them to hatch," he said. "So, don't be surprised if you get 'squirmies' right away. "Don't be surprised if you come in here and the eggs are bopping around …"
Dollinger explained to the youths the difference in life cycle and home base between the two salmonid cousins.
"If they are salmon they're going to be going out to the ocean; the trout will stay put," he said.
Dollinger then donned latex gloves and prepared to introduce the salmon eggs to their new home.
"I put the gloves on because my hands could possibly be contaminated …," he said. "I don't want to pollute the water or damage the fish."
"Oh my gosh, they're tiny" exclaimed one youngster as the eggs flowed into the aquarium.
"See the eye, the tiny little ones," Dollinger said. "He winked at you. Did you see it?"
"I want to eat them" the young fish connoisseur said with glee. "I want some trout eggs."
"No!" retorted one of his classmates.
The instructor explained that the eggs will drop into the bottom of the aquarium, "bounce around a little bit" and then "they'll find spots in the gravel and they'll nestle in and just lay there. That is what happens in the wild. This is why gravel beds (in streams) are really important to the fish."
Roughly 90% (in this case 180 eggs) will survive to adulthood and be released in a nearby stream.
The eggs are their responsibility now, Dollinger explained. They will take water samples, keep a close eye on the temperature in the aquarium and keep a diary of the eggs' activity until they are ready to be released.
"I love doing this," he said. "It's so much fun with the kids."
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