Students from two schools joined forces Tuesday in an ongoing quest to determine whether the Augusta Canal could support a recreational fishery for rainbow trout.
“The big question is whether (they can) take the warm weather,” said Warren Road Elementary School teacher Leesa Lyles, whose students built a mini fish hatchery last spring.
The project yielded hundreds of 2-inch rainbow trout that were placed into the canal as part of a study by students at John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School.
Science teacher Carl Hammond-Beyer and his students evaluated the canal’s water quality for the past year and concluded there was adequate oxygen, suitable pH and plenty of food. The only potentially limiting factor was water temperature.
“We know the trout would do fine in the winter,” he said. “But we need to see what happens during the warmest months: June, July and August.”
Tuesday’s stocking was done within the controlled environment of specially designed underwater cages made from 50-gallon drums. Each end was covered with netting to keep the tiny trout in, and a steel mesh to keep hungry otters out.
The water temperature Tuesday hovered at 62 degrees, just 2 degrees above the temperature considered optimal for trout, which can tolerate temperatures as much as 10 degrees warmer.
“If it stays below 72 this summer, we’re in like Flynn,” Hammond-Beyer said.
Students will feed the fish twice a day and monitor changes in water temperature and any subsequent fish mortality.
The objective, Hammond-Beyer said, is to collect data to prove to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources that the canal could support trout.
“What I’d like to see happen is for DNR to see this as stockable for a put-and-take fishery,” he said.
Though doubts have been raised in the past about the sustainability of trout in the canal, successful fisheries have been created in similar waters.
The Saluda River near Lexington, S.C., for example, has always been a popular trout stream supported by annual stockings by the state. In recent years, however, the habitat has produced
trophy fish, documenting that the trout can survive from year to year in an environment similar to the Savannah River.