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As local schools were shutting buildings down in response to COVID-19, Jim Woodworth was coordinating an emergency plan for 3,000 to 4,000 baby brown trout, or fry, being fostered in Trout in the Classroom tanks, including those in North Branford and Branford public schools. (Photo courtesy of Jim Woodworth )
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As local schools were announcing shutting buildings down in response to COVID-19, Jim Woodworth was coordinating an emergency plan for 3,000 to 4,000 baby brown trout, or “fry,” being fostered in Trout in the Classroom (TIC) tanks, including those in four tanks spread out at public schools in North Branford and Branford.
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, personally overseeing TIC programs running in 15 local shoreline towns.
Four days after Jim installed TIC’s two newest 55-gallon tanks in the greenhouse at North Branford High School (NBHS), the district, as well as Branford Public Schools, announced schools would close as of March 16.
“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,” he says.
One of those teachers is a Branford High School (BHS) science teacher Vicki Climie, who has been involved for years and started out with TIC’s forerunner, Salmon in the Classroom.
In addition to bringing the BHS fry home for the duration, Climie also delivered hundreds of brown trout eggs to all of the area’s shoreline teachers for TIC this year. She picked them up on “egg day” in January at a commuter lot in Cheshire. 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 fish 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.”
Other local teachers involved in TIC also include Branford’s Tisko Elementary School, which has a lobby tank that’s overseen by kindergarten teacher Dylan Clough. At NBHS, TIC is overseen by science teacher Rebekah Polemeni and NBHS Greenhouse Job Coach Robert Boudreau.
Jim made an extra effort to get the NBHS program up and running a bit late in the season, beginning March 13.
“Most of the schools received eggs in early January and they hatched the eggs, so they thought they weren’t going to be able to start until next year,” says Jim.
However, he was able to pick up fry hatched by DEEP and bring them to two new tanks he’d set up at NBHS. 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.”
The local TU chapter is also involved in a fish ladder project underway just around the corner from NBHS, with permission from a property owner on Mill Road. TU of Connecticut secured a grant from Save the Sound to pay for the ladder’s construction. It’s expected to be completed in the coming weeks to accommodate fish migration, which begins in April. The NBHS fry are also to be released in the area, says Jim.
“That’s how these trout tanks got into [NBHS],” he says. “The [Regional] Water Authority gave them a grant for the tanks. It’s the first time I ever put them in a greenhouse—it’s really interesting. Most schools, they’re in the classroom.”
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.
Students are there to help release the trout, and often participate in special events and programs built around the release. Last year, Jim hiked with Tisko students to help them release their fry in a stream at Veteran’s Memorial Park on Brushy Plain Road.
“Every school does it differently,” he says. “Branford High’s kids hike to Supply Pond to release their fish, and they do a [litter] pick-up as part of their day there. 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 the TU of 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 of Connecticut Board of Directors and has been involved as a volunteer in the community on behalf of the organization in many other areas. TU of 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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