What Can You Learn From a Fish?

Or a clam, a coyote, a moose, or a mudflat? For students and faculty in the science programs at U Maine Machias, the answer is that you can learn a lot, maybe enough to earn you a place in some of the nation's more well-respected graduate programs. UMM's location-- at the headwaters of the Machias River Estuary, on the northwestern edge of the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by forest wilderness, blueberry barrens, lakes and streams--is the perfect place to pull on your boots, roll up your sleeves, get outside and learn something.

One Fish, Myriad Issues

salmon project
Professor Spranger's students erect a river identification sign to aid the Pleasant River Watershed Council.

At first, it may seem odd how one relatively small fish could create such a big stir, but that's the case with the Atlantic Salmon. Over the last 300 years, the Atlantic Salmon population has decreased by about 90%. It's now an endangered species. UMM Biology Professor Sherrie Sprangers recognized that studying the salmon's plight would be a unique way to introduce first-year students to interdisciplinary marine, biological, and environmental science. She points out, "Fisheries biology is a great way to get your feet wet."

The Heart of Salmon Country

Sherrie's introductory course, Atlantic Salmon Conservation, gets students out of the classroom to NOAA's Little Falls Research Station in nearby Cherryfield, and off into the woods to check on local rivers and streams, critical salmon habitat for spawning. Being in the heart of 'salmon country' means there are a number of federal, state, and non-profit organizations in the area conducting salmon research. In addition to NOAA, there's the International Atlantic Salmon Federation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission. To greater and lesser degrees, they're all dealing with the same basic issues: the effects of over-harvesting, pollution, and habitat loss; and threats from the hydro-electric industry, forest practices, aquaculture, agriculture, and acid rain.

Issues Critical to Everyone's Future

Those same issues go far beyond impacting just Atlantic Salmon; they're environmental and ecological issues critical to everyone's future, not just on the coast of Maine. Each year, Machias students intern, do independent work study, or take part in co-op work with these organizations. They bring their mathematics, chemistry, and biology skills from the classroom to the real world.

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