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As schools began announcing closings in response to COVID-19, Guilford native Jim Woodworth was coordinating an emergency plan for about 4,000 baby brown trout, or “fry,” being fostered in Trout in the Classroom (TIC) tanks, including hundreds making their home in a 55-gallon tank at Guilford High School. (Photo courtesy of Jim Woodworth )
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As schools began announcing shutting buildings down in response to COVID-19, Jim Woodworth was coordinating an emergency plan for about 4,000 baby brown trout, or “fry,” being fostered in Trout in the Classroom (TIC) tanks, including hundreds making their home in a 55-gallon tank at Guilford High School (GHS).
TIC is an effort of Trout Unlimited (TU) Connecticut, a grassroots conservation organization on a mission to protect, reconnect, restore and sustain Connecticut’s cold water resources. Jim, a Guilford native and Higganum resident, is the state coordinator for TIC as well as the coordinator for TU’s Hammonasset Chapter. He’s personally overseeing TIC programs running in 15 local shoreline towns.
On March 13, as Superintendent of Schools Paul Freeman announced all Guilford schools would close “indefinitely” as of 5 p.m. that night, “I had information coming in from TU National about things we can do, like early fish releases or having custodians feed the fish. Some teachers are actually taking the trout home and overseeing them at home,” says Jim.
Jim coordinated a plan with GHS science teacher Samantha Chiappa, one of TIC’s experienced educators in a public school system that’s support TIC in Guilford classrooms for many years.
“We’ve been in Guilford for many years and now at the high school. She’s another one that’s really, really good,” says Jim.
Chiappa first took delivery of this year’s batch of brown trout on “egg day” in January. TIC partners with state’s Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) to provide the eggs as well as the food that will sustain the fry as they grow.
“On egg day in January, we spread out all over the state distributing eggs to schools. This year, the DEEP bought 23,000 eggs,” Jim says. “They’re each about the size of a pea, and we bring them in little Tupperware containers. The teachers dump them into a hatching basket and [once the fry hatch,] teach them how to feed in there. Once they’re able to feed, they can go into the tank.”
As this is a learning experience, TIC also has a support plan, Jim notes.
“We don’t want any schools to fail,” he says. “Sometimes schools will have a failure, where they lose their fish, and we replace them.”
As trout love clean, cold water, each of the tanks have specialized chillers to keep the conditions right.
“TU is a national organization, and we’re a conservation organization for clean water. We use fishing as a way for people to get outdoors and into the streams,” says Jim. “TIC was actually started in 1977 by a teacher in New York, and now it’s spread throughout the country.”
In a normal year, most schools release their fish in late May at DEEP-selected freshwater sites.
“Theoretically, I have 3,000 or 4,000 fish just from my chapter, and the DEEP has to know where they all are,” says Jim.
Chiappa and the GHS students usually trek to a section of the West River to release their fry, he says.
“Every school does it differently,” Jim says, adding “this year, hopefully, we’re supposed to start a new program where we’re going to take the kids fishing where they’re released.”
A lifelong fisherman and long-time member of TU Connecticut, Jim signed on to assist TIC after he retired from a 40-year career as a manufacturing engineer with Pratt & Whitney.
“My father and grandfather always took us fishing, and mostly freshwater—the Mill Pond and the West River in Guilford, and in the Catskills” in New York, he says. “I never had a fish tank, myself. About four or five years ago, I started working with some people in my chapter and started visiting the schools.”
When TIC’s statewide coordinator moved out of state a few years back, Jim says, “they needed a replacement, and I said, ‘Well, I guess I’m it!’”
Jim’s also served on the TU Connecticut Board of Directors and has been involved as a volunteer in the community on behalf of the organization in many other areas. TU Connecticut brings programs to community events, such as the Durham Fair and the Friends of Hammonasset Festival held in Guilford, he notes.
“We do things like teach kids how to tie flies and we teach kids how to fish. We do a lot of stuff with youth education. The kids love it, because the get to make something and take it home, and maybe learn a lifelong skill, too,” says Jim.
Jim encourages teachers interested in joining TIC next year to learn more by visiting www.cttrout.org/troutintheclassroom.
“Even if we have an off year this year, we’ll be back next year,” he says.
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