Releasing the 1000th Fish
Palisade High School's Endangered Fish Hatchery Releases Endangered Razorback Sucker into the Colorado River

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On May 3, 2024, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in collaboration with Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the Palisade High School's Endangered Fish Hatchery marked a very special day. For the fourth consecutive year, students, partners, and the community of Palisade, CO, released an impressive 350 endangered razorback sucker into the fish’s native habitat – the Colorado River. But what makes this batch of fish so special? They were student-raised from the spawning to the release.

“It does take a village to raise a fish.” - Jeff Corwin

“We can’t support the future of conservation without the students that are surrounding me today.” - Anna Munoz, FWS Mountain-Prairie Region Deputy Regional Director

About Palisade High School Endangered Fish Hatchery

The Palisade High School Endangered Fish Hatchery provides students with hands-on experiential learning on a wide array of aquaculture and fisheries science techniques and topics revolving around the conservation of Upper Colorado River fishes including recirculating aquaculture, conservation of native fishes, the importance and application of The Endangered Species Act, ichthyology, fish biology, water chemistry, statistics and much more.

The project began in 2015 when Palisade High School partnered with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program to plan and create the Palisade High School Endangered Fish Hatchery. This collaboration is unique since it is one of a small handful of endangered fish hatcheries in the United States operated by high school students, and potentially the only non-salmonid endangered fish partnership of its kind.

After three years of FWS employees spawning fish to deliver to the high school, it was decided that it was time for the students to get involved from the very beginning. Palisade High School Endangered Fish Hatchery technicians took a trip to Ouray National Fish Hatchery to learn how to spawn razorbacks and had a nearly 100% survival rate.

About the Razorback Sucker

The razorback sucker is an endangered species found only in the warm-water portions of the Colorado River Basin. Three to five million years ago, this fish made its way into the river and its tributaries. It’s one of the largest sucker species in North America, growing up to 3 feet in length. In 1979, the razorback sucker was listed as endangered under Colorado law, and by 1991, it was listed as federally endangered and given full protection under the Endangered Species Act. Today, we and many partners (including Palisade High School) work together to restore self-sustaining populations through propagation and stocking.

Release the Razorback!

May 3rd arrived, and the students’ hard work finally paid off. It was time to release the hundreds of razorback sucker into the mighty Colorado River and give them a kiss goodbye and good luck. Before the festivities began, world-renowned wildlife biologist and conservationist Jeff Corwin shared some remarks with the students, community, and partners.

“I am so incredibly proud of the students at Palisade High School and their commitment, day in and day out, to environmental stewardship. No species is greater than another and saving this incredible fish is as important as saving a California condor, a bald eagle, an American alligator. And what I love about this program is that it provides significance to students where they get to immerse themselves in this life-changing experience. We have students here today that will become the next environmental leaders for years to come, and that’s because of this incredible program.” - Jeff Corwin

Hundreds of partners and community members surrounded the boat launch eager to kiss a fish and send it along its new journey. Each fish released from the Palisade Endangered Fish Hatchery is given a PIT tag and an ID so that Ouray National Fish Hatchery can help track this batch’s whereabouts and survival rate. Razorbacks from previous batches have been found in natural spawning areas so it’s possible they are reproducing and increasing wild populations to this day.

The 1000th Fish

"Our goal for the program is to get these fish to a point where their population is at a state of sustainability. Today with the Palisade High School Endangered Fish Hatchery's 1000th fish, we're a little bit closer to achieving that goal." - Pat Steele

Patrick Steele, Palisade High School teacher and the fearless leader of the on-campus hatchery, released the 1000th student-raised endangered razorback sucker - which was appropriately named Steele. While it was bittersweet, releasing Steele marks history for the students and community of Palisade High. Good luck and swim on, Steele!

Story Tags

Endangered and/or Threatened species
Fish hatcheries
Rivers and streams