It was a bittersweet moment for students, but in the end, the release of thousands of hand-raised trout into the Halstead Bayou will contribute to the area’s wild fish population.
For the last three years, scientists with the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory have been teaching the Ocean Springs High School students how to breed, rear and harvest plants and animals in all types of water environments, a science called aquaculture.
Interested students at the school can take a series of three aquaculture courses.
For the last eight months, aquaculture instructor Bryan Butler and his 60 or so students have been learning husbandry skills — how to raise and take care of baby trout in a 500-gallon tank in a greenhouse behind the school.
“The kids get a set number of juvenile fish from the research lab,” Butler said. “They’re about 2 inches when they get them. The kids raise them, do water quality (testing) and all the weights and measures. Their main goal is restoration of trout into the water. The more people catch, the less there is in the water.”
We’ve raised these fish since they were babies. It’s hard to see them released, but due to overfishing, it’ll help.
Taylor Scatliffe, Ocean Springs High junior
Tuesday morning, Butler and the students matched the salinity of the water in the bayou to that of the tank the trout were in. Two students got into the water and used a tube run by a gas-powered pump to transplant the 2,500 fish into the bayou. The rest of the students gathered on the shore.
“We’ve raised these fish since they were babies,” Taylor Scatliffe, a junior at Ocean Springs, who wants to be a marine biologist said. “It’s hard to see them released, but due to overfishing, it’ll help,” she said.
Senior Jackson Pocreva said he’s been interested in the school’s aquaculture program since he was a junior.
“It’s different than any other class,” he said. “It’s more hands on.”
Students also grow vegetables using hydroponics principles. The fish tanks water the vegetables and the vegetables help filter the fish-tank water. Students design and maintain the systems for moving the water from tank to tank.
The students are learning skills they’ll need if they go into the marine biology field.
“The whole idea is to get a hands-on education in aquaculture,” said Reg Blaylock, assistant director of the Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center. “The students are growing the fish to contribute to the wild population. It’s an opportunity for the students to gain some initial experience in the marine biology field.”
There are plenty of opportunities available, Blaylock said. The University of Southern Mississippi, for instance, has marine biology programs, including a graduate program in aquaculture.
Blaylock said about three-fourths of the seafood Americans consume is imported. Because of this, he said, there’s a “huge opportunity” for the development of domestic aquaculture industry, especially along the Coast.
“It’s part of a big economic-development package, really. We train students to get the skills needed for jobs, and develop technologies that can support an industry.”