Cookstown schools get their own trout hatcheries

Stewartstown PS pupils release their fish into the river.
Stewartstown PS pupils release their fish into the river.

OVER the last two months the Ballinderry river has been brought into classroom for two Cookstown primary schools, as they helped to conserve the unique Dollaghan trout.

Pupils at Phoenix Primary School, in Cookstown, and Stewartstown Primary School have been learning to be fish hatchery managers by running their own trout hatchery in the classroom. The Dollaghan Trout in the Classroom project, run by the Ballinderry River Enhancement Association (BREA) and funded by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, delivered Dollaghan trout eggs from Ballinderry Fish Hatchery to both schools in February.

The eggs were placed in a fish tank housed inside a small refrigerator, to keep the eggs at around five degrees, a temperature similar to that in the river at that time of year.

Over six weeks, the children have been observing the transformation of their special stock from eggs, to emerging babies, known as alevins with a yolk sac full of food, eventually changing into a small, but perfectly formed, little trout, known as a fry.

Each day the children have recorded the water temperature to learn how the development of a trout egg is dependent on water temperature and have used the information to predict when the eggs would hatch. Both schools visited Ballinderry Fish Hatchery to learn about how the eggs are stripped from the adult fish, fertilised and cared for in a hatchery, before planning their own fish release day.

Stewartstown Primary School pupils released their 30 fish along with 1000 others from the hatchery into the upper reaches of the Kingsmills River near Stewartstown, whilst Phoenix Primary School released theirs into the Ballinderry River at the Cabin Wood, near Cookstown. Both classes took a look at the bugs in the river at their sites to learn how the water insects can tell us how clean or dirty the water is and see what food would be on the menu for their wee fishes.

Frank Mitchell, project coordinator, said: “The project has been a huge success, allowing the kids to see how fish develop day by day and to learn the importance of conserving this unique species of trout which is only found in the Lough Neagh rivers and nowhere else in the world.”

As the pilot scheme was so successful the BREA and Ballinderry Fish Hatchery plan to run the scheme again next year and hope to extend it out to more schools in the river system.