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Students gain aquaculture experience

New Richmond High School students are learning the ropes of the aquaculture business.

The fish rearing facilities at the school are now filled with tiny fish, thanks to a couple of stocking efforts that were completed recently.

About 200 bluegills were transported into one huge tank two weeks ago. Last Wednesday, Sept. 26, 500 baby tilapia fish were also moved into their new temporary home in the rear of the agriculture education department.

"Finally, the big day has come," teacher Rachel Sauvola said. "The kids have worked so hard."

School officials had hoped to start raising fish last year, when the new high school building opened. The new aquaculture facilities are state of the art, Sauvola said, but there were some mechanical issues that made fish rearing impossible last school year.

After a year of working out the bugs, Sauvola said her students are ready to learn about aquaculture and actually raise some fish to boot.

Without the help and dedication of the high school's maintenance staff, and the support of high school administrators, the aquaculture facility would not have been possible, Sauvola said.

"They all helped make this an awesome learning experience," she said.

The bluegills currently being raised in the facility came from Tad Storm's Glacier Ponds in Fremont, Wis. NRHS students took a 16-hour field trip recently to gather up the fish and transport them back to New Richmond.

Future Farms aquaculture facility near Baldwin was the supplier of the baby tilapia. Phil Hudson, manager of aquaculture and equipment at Future Farms, delivered the fish to the high school last week. He brought along the necessary fish food and offered a few tips for successfully raising the tilapia over the coming months.

"Tilapia are originally from the Nile River," he told the students. "They're a very tough fish and can tolerate warm water."

The tank water at the high school is kept at about 75 degrees.

Among the many lessons the students hope to learn during the course of the year are water quality issues, food sources for fish, fish diseases and more.

Sauvola said the goal is to care for the tilapia until they've reached a weight of 1.5 to 2 pounds.

"The goal is to use some of the fish for school lunch," Sauvola said. "And if we have more left over, we want to have a community fish fry in the spring."

Some of the fish may also be used for a taxidermy lesson that will be completed by students, Sauvola added.