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Students successful in hatching fish

They're only 1 1/2 inches long and weigh only 2.8 grams, but to the students and faculty at Cabrillo High School, they're a huge success.

They are more than 35 rainbow trout fingerlings that were released into Lake Cachuma Friday afternoon.

"We were able to successfully turn these fish loose at Cachuma -- alive," said Dave Long, the aquarium advisor.

The fish arrived at the Cabrillo Aquarium almost seven weeks ago as eggs and were placed in two tanks.

Cabrillo's experience with sustaining some of the marine world's most delicate creatures helped them make a successful foray into the hatchery business.

"With other schools, this (trout hatchery) is their only aquatic program," said teacher Greg Eisen, director of the trout project. "We've got an edge because we've learned by doing."

The skill of the aquarium's students and teachers also enabled them to sustain a couple of fish that would not have survived in the wild. Both a dwarf fingerling and another with a bent back are still alive and well.

"Even this fish was able to survive," Eisen said. "The fact these fish are surviving is amazing to me."

Cabrillo was originally permitted to release only 35 fingerlings into Lake Cachuma by the state department of Fish and Game. But the amazing success of the project allowed them to release slightly more than the allotted amount and keep another six for display purposes.

"With being able to keep six fish, we can watch their development through the older stages," Eisen said.

More than 95 percent of the eggs provided to the Cabrillo aquarium by the San Luis Obispo-based Salmon Enhancement Fund hatched.

Over a period of six weeks, students monitored the trout's growth patterns and worked to feed the ravenous fingerlings six times a day.

"Some of the students did tracking of their development on a daily basis," Eisen said. They studied "what kind of changes the eggs underwent as they hatched into fingerlings."

Students learned a variety of things from the trout project.

"I learned how fast they grow and how pure the water needs to be," said Matt Church, one of the student curators for the 1995-96 school year.

But the students' learning is not restricted to trout related issues.

"It's like a job," said student John Johnson, another of next year's student curators. "He (Dave Long) makes us take a lot of responsibility upon ourselves."

"What these guys do now is placed in their long-term memory bank," Long said. "I expect them to have fun, but I don't expect them to come in there and abuse the facilities."

"They have a responsibility to follow up on the hundreds of man-hours that've been put into this program," he said.

Already, Cabrillo is looking forward to doing more involved and extensive research projects such as adopting a nearby stream and the surrounding ecosystem.

"If we were able to muster a group of 25 students, under proper direction, to walk a local stream, improving the habitat, the things they could learn would be phenomenal," Long said.

"My dream, as an aquarist, is how far can we go in developing a partnership with Fish and Game that's good for students, the community, and Fish and Game," Long said. "Without their direction, this project will not be possible."