Fishing For Futures

For the past two years, I’ve spent a week in April fishing at Auburn University’s North Auburn Fisheries Unit with 24 high school students from the Hartford, Conn., area. It’s not your usual fishing trip. Most of the time we don’t use ordinary poles, but we do catch a lot of fish. We “fish” for information about aquaculture by exposing, experiencing and exploring as many aspects of fish farming as we can cram into seven days.

The Auburn trip is part of a program called Exploring Diversity through Aquaculture (EDA). It is the first trip of a two-week travel program introducing high school students to the science and business of aquaculture.

We go to Alabama because Auburn is a wonderful place to learn about aquaculture. Auburn’s Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures is world renowned among people who know fish. And where else in these United States could we Connecticut Yankees go that’s more different than the Heart of Dixie?

EDA is a program funded by the Connecticut State Department of Education to bring city and suburban kids together around an academic theme—in this case, aquaculture. The goals of EDA are to acquaint students from different schools and cultures to each other and expose them to the science and career possibilities of aquaculture as well as college in general and, for the Connecticut legislature, increase their test scores in science and writing.

The people in the fisheries department expose us to college life during the course of the week. Basically, we get an Intro to Aquaculture course with lots of hands-on experience out of their inherent generosity. Dave Cline, an Extension aquaculturist there in Alabama who has worked with EDA since the beginning, is our liaison to Auburn and its environs. He helps schedule everything at the fisheries department and the fisheries experiment station unit in Auburn, as well as field trips to local farms. Two years ago, Dave partnered us with Dadeville High School. Last year, four students from there became part of our group for the Auburn and Cape Cod trips.

Although we have some occasional minor language and cultural differences, everyone at Auburn who works with us—from graduate students to department heads (and especially the cafeteria staff)—make us feel welcome. It’s a wonderful experience for high school students to see what life is like at a college far from home.

During the course of the week, everyone gets the opportunity to fish using a variety of methods. Nobody leaves Alabama without touching (or being touched by) a few catfish—dead and alive. We fish with cane poles at the side of scenic ponds and eat fried catfish with hushpuppies. We weigh, measure and sort fish. We dissect catfish during labs, we treat diseased fish in the ponds, we feed fish and we harvest thousands of pounds of them using seine nets and baskets large and small. We visit working fish farms, which grow bass for stocking ponds or tilapia for the fresh fish market in Atlanta, and if we’re lucky, we get to go fishing at a fishout farm.

All this fishing exposes students to the science, technology and best farming practices for freshwater aquaculture. It’s broadening for the kids and we hope it will be good for aquaculture.

We couldn’t do it without the generosity of the CoAg Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures and the staff at the Experiment Station who give their time and talents so generously. They don’t have to spend days with us letting us experiment in their ponds, but they do and we’re grateful for the opportunity to go fishing with them.
It is a trip TO Auburn but really a gift FROM Auburn that ought to be recognized in these times when there really isn’t any such thing as a free lunch.

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