School salmon project released into bay by vandals

October 4, 2011 6:09:15 PM PDT
An unusual crime occurred in the North Bay. Somebody deliberately cut the nets holding thousands of baby salmon and released them into the bay. The fish were part of a joint project between the Tiburon Salmon Institute and high school students in Petaluma.

This act was heartbreaking to the students. One pond with 20,000 salmon was untouched, but two other ponds were tampered with. Sheriff's investigators say this act is considered vandalism and grand theft.

There were 40,000 salmon total that used to swim in the two pens. Greg Gillis, 17, says they were his babies. He and his classmates at Casa Grande High School in Petaluma were responsible for every stage of their lives.

"We took care of them, we spawned them from mother and father fish and raised them from before they were even fish," said Gillis.

It was a collaborative effort with the Tyee Foundation and the Tiburon Salmon Institute whose motto is "Empowering today's youth to save tomorrow's salmon."

The students raised the fish for several months in a hatchery at school and then transferred them to prepare for a release into the bay. Sometime between Monday morning's feeding and Tuesday, someone deliberately cut the ties that held the fish in the nets.

"It's a sad state where you can't raise fish to give back to the wild without somebody vandalizing the project," said Brooke Halsey from the Tiburon Salmon Institute.

The fish were going to be released this month, but not this way. Every year the students have a ceremony to say goodbye to their babies. Now they've been deprived of an event that celebrates their hard work.

"Everyone can say 'We need to do something.' But we are the kids who were out there doing it, restoring the creek, restoring the salmon populations, and just helping the environment that surrounds us," said Gillis.

Investigators believe that someone in a boat pulled up along the docks and committed the crime. The executive director of the institute says he may speculate this may be the act of an animal rights group. After all, these salmon were being nurtured and then released. The fish are wearing tags that the students put on them.


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