POWNAL >> Pownal Elementary School fifth-graders participating in a Trout in the Classroom project discovered an oddity among the tiny fish: A two-headed brook trout they call Twofor.
The fish, which got its name from the phrase "two for the price of one," is one of 200 trout provided to the school as part of the program. The students cared for the eggs, which arrived from the trout hatchery in Pittsford in February, until they hatched, and will eventually release the fish into Broad Brook in Pownal in May.
Four schools in southwest Vermont are participating in the program — Pownal, Shaftsbury, Manchester, and Dorset, according to Chris Alexopoulos, a fisheries and wildlife specialist from the U.S. Forest Service's Manchester office who is helping those schools with this program.
The statewide program, which involves over 20 schools, is overseen by Joe Mark, a retired dean from Castleton University. Special education teacher Michael Carrano is the point person for the program in Pownal. He received his undergraduate degree in environmental science and biology, and works as a fly fishing guide for Berkshire Rivers Fly Fishing and an ambassador for the American Museum of Fly Fishing in his spare time.
"I've been wanting to do this for awhile," he said of the Trout in the Classroom program, which Pownal is participating in for the first time. Carrano said working with the trout teaches students about math, biology, water quality, stewardship, and more. "They've learned a lot so far, and they've just scraped the surface," he said.
Water for the tank was provided by the Bennington Fish Hatchery. "It's key to have the purest water to start this program," said Alexopoulos. Each day the students check the that the water temperature is stable, and test the pH and level of ammonia in the water. "It's a very intense in-classroom project," he said, "To take care of these trout, and to feed them, and to keep the water at an acceptable chemistry is very difficult."
The trout will be released when they are fry, a stage of growth when they are only about half as long as a human finger. Brook trout typically take 1-3 years to mature into adults. "Those big trout that your teacher catches all started out this size," Alexopoulos told the students.
On Twofor, Alexopoulos said that, when he was involved in salmon hatching, finding multi-headed salmon was relatively common, but that he has never before seen a trout with two heads. Unfortunately, he said, two-headed fish cannot swim correctly, and aren't expected to be able to survive in the wild. He said he hopes about half of the 200 fish will survive the coming months to be released into the wild. At this stage, he said, Pownal and Shaftsbury are ahead of the other schools he's worked with, with a survival rate of about 99 percent. Many of the fish could die between now and May, however, as the students make sensitive but necessary adjustments to the chemistry of the tanks and the fishes' diets.
For those interested in more information, Mark maintains a blog about the Trout in the Classroom program, which can be found at vermonttroutintheclassroom.weebly.com.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.