Pilot story and photos by Andrea Barkan

The Chetco River got an influx of baby salmon, or fry, March 15 thanks to four Kalmiopsis third grade classes that raised and released several hundred salmon.

Students stood on the Chetco's sunny banks at Loeb State Park and released the tiny fish they'd collectively raised from eggs since January.

andquot;They've been taking good care of them,andquot; LeRoy Ellingson, president of Oregon South Coast Fishermen, said.

andquot;We didn't have very many deaths,andquot; he said.

Ellingson estimated about 90 percent of the fish lived to reach their fry stage under the students' care.

Oregon South Coast Fishermen donated fish tanks to each classroom.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife sponsors the Salmon Trout Enhancement Program (STEP) to educate children about fish and the environment.

andquot;It's been a great learning tool in class,andquot; Cliff Thomason said.

Thomason's son Lake is in Jane Opiat's third-grade class.

andquot;Learning the whole life cycle has been great,andquot; he said. andquot;Every one of them seems to be able to go through and name each stage of the life cycle.andquot;

John Weber, a biologist with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, tested the students' ability to do just that before they released the fish.

Weber asked them questions about the salmon's life cycle, environmental needs, predators and more.

After the andquot;pop quiz,andquot; students lined up to receive small plastic cups of water and three or four fish.

They carefully placed their cups in the shallow river water at the bank, allowing the small fry to swim freely.

Weber said the sixth-grade classes from Azalea Middle School participating in STEP released their fish March 16 at Loeb.