Trout testing teaches tenacity

Issue: Volume 98, Number 3

Posted: 20 February 2019
Reference #: 1H9rR5

A group of Year 12 science students are learning about trout and sustainability by getting their feet wet.

It all began with the claim that the local river in Wyndham was dead. Menzies College was about to prove otherwise.

Students from the Southland school researched a claim by the NZ Association of Freshwater Anglers that the Mimihau River was “lost or in noticeable decline” as a public trout fishery.

Head of Science Kit Hustler says his class learned how to catch and monitor trout with the help of Fish and Game New Zealand’s Southland branch.

“They loaned us some nets. One of their officers came out and set nets overnight. Then we caught the trout and we tagged them with tags.”

Trout fishing is integral to the Southland economy, he says. After applying to the Ethics Committee, students began to set nets weekly and check them the following morning.

Students experimented with different ways to set the nets until they found a method that worked.

“For the first eight weeks that we did the exercise we didn’t catch a single trout. The fact that the Fish and Game officer had been there and caught four trout overnight suggested that there were trout in the river, so there was continual re-evaluation as to why we had failed.”

The students were able to figure out why they were coming up empty by keeping records of the methods used and noting changes for the next trial, Kit says.

“There was lots of discussion every time we went down there and hauled these empty nets out,” he says.

“Eventually they came up with the idea of setting the nets in a different way, so we did that and we caught eight trout in one night. There was much excitement, we tagged all these trout and then it just went from there. It got to the point where these guys were really keen to get out there and do it for themselves.

“There seems to be a cycle of fish going up this river, which we didn’t know about and which they picked up. The students said, ‘Hey, if we look at the data that we’ve collected, we didn’t catch any trout up to April, then we caught some trout up to July and then we caught lampreys.”

Kit designed the project so students would benefit from a wide range of new skills and learnings reflected in The New Zealand Curriculum. For example, they learnt to be creative and enterprising when working out why they were not catching fish. The measuring and data collection tested their ability in maths and the whole project brought home the concept and value of sustaining the environment.

The students were able to share their findings with Fish and Game New Zealand through a shared online document.

“Every time we’d been out there and weighed and measured and tagged the fish, that information went onto the sheet so the Fish and Game guys knew exactly what we had caught when.”

Building connections

Keen to release some trout into the stream, the students approached Fish and Game about rearing salmon. The goal was to learn how to grow salmon so they could eventually apply this knowledge to rearing trout.

“We still have some of the salmon here and we’ve let some of the salmon go,” Kit says.

“We had a request from the local primary school to come in and have a look at the fish and these boys then took that over. We had some Year 4s coming in and taking an interest in the salmon, asking the boys what was going on. They visited the school regularly every two weeks or so and made notes about how the fish were going.

“When we released the salmon into the river all the junior school kids came down and were involved and they all had little messages which were read out when the fish were released.”

Forming bonds with the primary school was an unexpected outcome of the project, but gave the older students a chance to develop their confidence and leadership skills, Kit says. It was also a practical application of a community of learning in operation.

When setting the nets students needed to consider factors such as flooding or rain upstream, in case the nets were washed away.

“The actual learning that happened was spectacular. They decided on taking some of the actions they did; they then reflected on it and made improvements or kept it the same,” Kit says.

“The main learning outcome was that failure is not bad; that’s got to be the best one. It’s disappointing if you fail, but it’s even more disappointing if you don’t try and sort it out so you succeed.

“The number of times that we set nets and didn’t catch anything, there was a bit of disappointment that was creeping in but it was a case of ‘let’s reflect’. Just because it failed this time doesn’t mean it was going to fail next time provided that we learn from our mistakes.”

Menzies College won the Environment Action in Education category of the 2018 Southland Community Environment Awards in recognition of this project. This year’s Year 12 science students will continue to extend the work begun by last year’s students.

“We’ve got the trout lined up and we’ve also got some giant kākāpō in a nearby reserve lined up as well,” Kit says.

“What I’ve learnt is that you give students opportunities to try things out for themselves, while it is quite a risky thing in terms of releasing some of the reigns, it’s not all bad and eventually something good will come out of it.” 

Students learn how to set nets with an expert from Fish and Game New Zealand.

Local curriculum support

In order to support the progress of all students, the Leading Local Curriculum Guide series(external link) has been developed to deliberately steer your curriculum and assessment review and design decisions as you strengthen your local curriculum. It will support you to use tools to assess progress that is informative, and strengthen the partnerships you have with parents and whānau. There are three guides:

Local curriculum

Designing rich opportunities and coherent pathways for all learners.

Assessment for learning

Using the right tools and resources to notice and respond to progress across the curriculum.

Information sharing and building learning partnerships

Having conversations with young people and their families and whānau about their learning and progress.

What students are saying…


“Being hands on, it was easier for me to learn as I found it a lot more fun. The new learning technique made it a lot easier for me as it was a lot more enjoyable getting to do stuff like that. I learned that things aren’t as they look or seemed. I found that the river had less of a trout population than expected and I also found that there was a very interesting pattern of what fish are in the river at the time.”


“I personally got more knowledge about my local hometown river. I have lived in Wyndham my whole life and considered that all the nearby rivers (Mimihau, Mokoreta and Mataura) had trout in them. Local Wyndham residents never knew that the Mimihau was considered to be dead. I caught my first fish in there, so thought they were wrong, but we needed proof.

“What I gained from this experience was getting out there more and being more engaged with the class, knowing more local knowledge about our rivers. I’ve learned that once you set your mind to something you can always make a change. Which we as a class were able to do and prove that the Mimihau is not dead.”


“At the beginning of the year we decided to take a more hands-on approach to our studies because we did not do paperwork and exams well. I learned why fish in the rivers are important to us and realised that these trout are important to us as a community.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:45 am, 20 February 2019

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