Every year, fourth and fifth graders from across Eastern Washington raise fish as part of the Salmon in the Classroom curriculum. Salmon in the Classroom is sponsored by the Benton Conservation District, an organization that stewards conservation practices involving soil, water, air, fish, and wildlife in Benton County, Washington. The Salmon in the Classroom unit allows students to hatch salmon eggs at school, study salmon life cycle and habitat, and learn to test water quality. The curriculum culminates with the release of the salmon into the Columbia River in an event known as Salmon Summit.
For the first time since 2019, over 400 students were able to attend the Salmon Summit in person and 3,600 students from 144 classrooms across the state tuned in to the virtual livestream on April 26. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) staff demonstrated the tagging and release of 500 juvenile salmon, raised at PNNL's Aquatic Research Laboratory, into the Columbia River. Students from public and private elementary school classrooms in Richland, Kennewick, Gig Harbor, and Bremerton participated in the event in person or virtually.
Each fish was implanted with a passive tag, known as a PIT tag, that has a unique code that allows researchers to identify fish throughout their life. Certain passage routes at downstream dams have detection equipment to identify fish as they swim by. PNNL is monitoring these detections using a centralized database called PTAGIS and will continue to report on progress.
Within a week of Salmon Summit, four fish were detected at McNary Dam. Two months after the release of the salmon, 60 fish had been detected. Fish can only be detected if they pass through the juvenile bypass systems at the dams. Typically, 5 to 10 percent of fish use these routes, so the other fish that weren't detected likely swam another route on their way to the ocean.
The Benton Conservation District organized the broader Salmon Summit in-person event and supported recruitment of classrooms for the live stream event, and the. Department of Energy's Water Power Technologies Office sponsored PNNL’s PIT tagging station and the live stream event. The City of Kennewick supported this event by allowing access at Columbia Park. Researchers fielded questions about salmon biology and the tagging process, education and careers in biology, Earth sciences, engineering, and science communications. The most popular questions were about predators and what happens when salmon that are tagged are eaten.
Check out the classroom activities aligned with Washington state math learning standards that were developed to compliment the activities demonstrated at Salmon Summit: