No sooner had I written my chirpy post on Friday about a day spent picking up and delivering eggs for 11 southwest Vermont schools, when some distressing stories began to roll in.
Green Mountain Valley School's Meg Lyons was the first to report extremely high die-off rates within the first 24 hours of receiving her eggs. Williston Central School's Colleen O'Brien wasn't far behind. But some teachers--Mary Hogan's Steve Flint and Bethel's Deb Scott among them--seemed to be having perfectly normal die-off rates.
Even schools that I delivered to within minutes of each other reported very different levels of mortality. For example, Dorset School, where I delivered eggs at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, had very few bad eggs; while MEMS, who get their eggs 15 minutes later, lost just about all. Both experienced and new TIC teachers were having problems, but some new and experienced teachers were also having good results. As the king says in the King and I, this was "a puzzlement!"
Dorset School volunteer Jim Mirenda offered the first hypothesis about what might be going wrong. On seeing some photos I took of dead and dying eggs, Jim observed that it appeared that a chemical had partially dissolved the shells of the eggs.
Other problems included the fact that some eggs hatched prematurely (see above), perhaps due to the partially dissolved shells. In addition, many teachers observed eggs clumped together (evident in this next photo). Maybe these eggs were stuck to each other because their shells had become a sticky, gelatinous substance.
This morning, Jeremy Whalen, supervisor of the Roxbury Fish Culture Station, said that he believes that some of the batches of eggs were exposed too long to the iodine solution treatment that the hatchery uses to reduce the risk of infection. Since the length of exposure varied by batch and day, this would explain why some schools had terrible losses while others had hardly any.
So what do we do? If you haven't lost a lot of eggs, consider yourself lucky and carry on! Schools that lost or are losing a high percentage of their eggs should discard the eggs and thoroughly clean net breeder baskets. Then, either directly or through a local TIC liaison, they should arrange to get new eggs from Roxbury. Jeremy has assured me that any iodine introduced to the aquarium by the first batch of eggs should not be a problem. I assume that the very small amount of iodine that was in your egg container would be so diluted by all the water in the tank as to be incapable of harming the new eggs.
In a way, it's good that these problems arose so early when Jeremy still has plenty of eggs to resupply those tanks that suffered great losses.
I know this won't be our only TIC crisis this season, but let's hope it's the last one that affects so many schools across the state.
Joe Mark, Lead Facilitator, Vermont Trout in the Classroom
In June 2012, I retired after 40 years in higher education, having spent the last 32 years of my career as dean at Castleton. One of the first things I volunteered to do in retirement was to work with Jim Mirenda to help the Dorset School, where his kids and my Vermont grandkids attend, start a TIC program. Gradually that commitment grew into my current role, which is both demanding and highly rewarding.