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Trout Brook fish get helping hand from South Portland 4th-graders

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Trout Brook fish get helping hand from South Portland 4th-graders

SOUTH PORTLAND — From small fry, there may be a bigger fish story in the six-acre Trout Brook Preserve.

Last week, fourth-graders from Waldo T. Skillin and Helena H. Dyer elementary schools released about 115 trout into a bend at Trout Brook as it courses between Providence and Boothby avenues.

It was the second release of trout in the infant "fry" stage into the urban stream, which is considered impaired and is targeted for cleanup by city Stormwater Program Coordinator Fred Dillon, with the help of county and state agencies.

In pairs or trios, the students poured fry from plastic cups into the water, wishing them well in their new homes, and sometimes naming them before setting them free.

Kayla Conley said she named her trout Gilly.

"I told it to stay away from big boats," Conley said.

Finding big boats on the brook that runs from Cape Elizabeth to Mill Creek isn't likely. But last year's spring release produced few, if any, survivors in the fall, Dillon said.

Even in the best of conditions, about one in every 200 released fry will survive. Dillon said there is work to be done to improve water quality in the stream.

The trout were released as part of the Portland Water District’s Classroom Hatchery Program, after being spawned at a Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife hatchery in Gray.

Before the thin fry, about the length of a thumb, were released, Dillon and staff from the PWD and the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District showed students how small actions can reap larger benefits in the ecosystem.

By measuring acidity and conductivity in the water while assessing the health of the food chain, the students learned conditions are good enough to sustain aquatic life in the preserve that opened last fall.

Using laminated charts, they identified insect and vegetative life taken from the stream and poured into ice cube trays. Dillon led them on a small walk along Providence Avenue to show how development has affected the brook and how planting buffers at the edge of properties can block the flow of contaminants into the stream.

A restoration plan for the 2.35-mile brook and watershed is in place, and a small trout population has been observed, even if odds of fry survival are a long shot.

But the plan, developed by Dillon, project scientist Kate McDonald of the conservation district, and Wendy Garland of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, is long on voluntary efforts and lean on public spending.

First, the plan seeks help from property and business owners in preventing the runoff that affects the ecosystem, from backyards and larger farms upstream in Cape Elizabeth.

McDonald said fish survival rates will not be as critical to assessing brook health as will be the insect life found lower in the food chain. If the squiggly creatures, smaller than a fingernail, that students viewed through magnifying glasses continue to thrive, the trout can thrive, too, she said.

High school students may become involved next summer in volunteer work, educating property owners about simple solutions to protect the brook and implementing them as well.

The fourth-graders who said goodbye to new friends with a splash said they also learned more about helping them survive.

"I learned the water has to be just right," Ethan Sligh said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.