Sporting water shoes and baseball caps, nearly a dozen Wilmington Friends students gathered on the rocky shore of the Brandywine River this past Saturday morning and released shad fry into the water.
Many years ago, the small fish sustained George Washington’s troops, serving as a plentiful food source, but over generations, the shad population has decreased tremendously. As a result of the industrial revolution and the implementation of dams, few fish now have the ability to migrate.
As part of the program Shad in Schools, seventh-grade science teacher Karen Horikawa raises shad in her classroom, both for educational and restorative purposes. Prior to receiving the shad eggs, students learn about the cultural, historic and biological significance of the fish. Once the shad eggs arrive, Ms. Horikawa’s seventh grade students have the opportunity to observe and care for the soon-to-be fry, cleaning the aquarium and testing the water quality.
Student Katy Shannon said that she enjoyed the active role she had in raising the shad fry. “It was much more fun than studying from a book,” she said.
Due to their small size, shad fry are difficult to identify with the naked eye, so students used microscopes to better observe the fish.
“That was really interesting for me to see them moving around because I want to be a marine biologist,” said Kate Horan, another of Ms. Horikawa’s students.
The shad will head to the ocean to spawn and return to the Brandywine River again this time next year.
“It’s amazing how they know the river and return every year,” Ms. Horikawa.
Just like the shad, I plan to return every year for the release. A classmate and I originally proposed the idea of implementing a program like this, and Ms. Horikawa has successfully carried out this project three years in a row. Not only has she educated students, but the annual release is an important measure in restoring native fish to the Brandywine.
Parthena Moisiadis is a 2011 graduate of Wilmington Friends School and a student at the University of Pittsburgh studying English Writing and Communication.