Hundreds of 5th graders participate in salmon release field trip - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Hundreds of 5th graders participate in salmon release field trip

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ELLENSBURG, WA - Every year, hundreds of fifth graders in Ellensburg leave their campus for the salmon release field trip. While folks are out at local lakes, creeks, ponds, and rivers fishing, students are putting some fish back in the water.

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, more than 300 students from five Ellensburg elementary schools got a taste of what it's like to be a scientist. Working alongside professionals from the NOAA, Forest Service, and other environmental education groups, the kids have been raising Chinook salmon since the beginning of January.

"We got them first when they were in little eggs," said Aubree Knudson-Brown, a 5th grader at Lincoln Elementary. "So we watched them grow over time and some of them died because they didn't have places to be fed."

Now more than three months later, the salmon are ready for their next adventure: living in a side channel of the Yakima River at the Melvin Sampson Hatchery Complex.

"Not only does it give them an opportunity to be outdoors and learn, but it also shows them the kind of careers that they could have," said Kaitlin Deardorff, Project Manager at Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group.

Before releasing their fish, students had to figure out which spot would be best for their survival.

"[We're] testing the temperature and seeing what kind of food we should get," Knudson-Brown explained. "So we got in the water and dug up with our feet, we kicked the food."

There was also one final pop quiz.

"You only get a fish if you can tell me two reasons why you think that site six is a good place," said one of the scientists. "Two reasons?"

"Because it has enough food and shade," a student answered.

After they received their small salmon fingerling in a plastic cup, it was time for the final step in their experiment: putting the fish into their new home.

"I felt, like, pretty good to let some salmon go out into the wild because that's where they belong, not in a tank," Knudson-Brown said.

The salmon release field trip is a blast for the kids, but it's also a flashback for all the professional scientists who spent the past two days with the students.

"I used to love field trips like this, so it's really exciting to be able to offer something like this to these kids," Deardorff said. "Especially because this is something you'd never get in a classroom setting."

The hands-on experience was thanks to a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and an education partnership with the Yakima Basin Environmental Education Program.