Since then, the United Anglers have dealt with and overcome many challenges to create an internationally recognized student-run fish hatchery, the only one of its kind in the country.
"We are the model for student-run fish hatcheries in the country," said interim hatchery director Dan Hubacker. "What we do here is being studied in Japan. We were contacted by high schools in Nagasaki and Hiroshima a few years ago and now we are talked about in their textbooks."
The United Anglers program and fish hatchery evolved from just a greenhouse in the 1980s to a state-of-the-art fish hatchery, which opened in 1993 thanks to students who raised more than $500,000 to build it.
"We are a completely self-sustaining project," said Hubacker. "It's a successful program and it's fascinating when you look at education right now and see all the cutbacks being made, while here you have this program that costs $50,000 a year to operate. The students raise that money every year."
The United Anglers program receives all of its funding through personal donations, grants and its annual dinner fund-raiser, to be held Saturday, Nov. 6 at the Petaluma Community Center.
"The dinner is our main fund-raiser," said Hubacker. "It has been much more of a challenge raising funds in the past few years. Students have been going every day of the week to businesses, and many of them have stepped in to do what they can, but we are being turned down by many businesses right now because money is tight."
The United Anglers' program focuses on three fish: steelhead trout, rainbow trout and Chinook salmon.
"The steelhead trout are not raised in the building," said Hubacker. "Our focus with them is monitoring their health in Adobe Creek, which is across the street from the high school. Through the students' efforts, we continue monitoring the health and strength of that run of fish."
The students also raise a couple hundred rainbow trout each year as part of learning about the fish and helping the trout population. The trout are eventually released.
During the fall, students turn their attention to the fall run of Chinook salmon.
"We go into the Petaluma River and collect these fish that are returning up the river, bring them to the facility and collect the eggs," said Hubacker. "We then fertilize the eggs, incubate them and raise them. We raise about 40,000 Chinook salmon and hold a permit for raising that many."
Once the salmon are old enough, Hubacker said they are brought to the Tiburon Salmon Institute at the Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies, where they are kept in floating net pens for a little while longer.
"Our system is a freshwater one, so we get the fish acclimated to salt water and then release them into the net pens in the bay," said Hubacker. "At that point, they'll stay there from May or June through October. Instead of releasing the fish in May, when they are two to three inches in size, we release them when they are six to 10 inches. They have a much better chance of survival that way."
While the United Anglers program is making a difference in the effort to save local fish populations, students are receiving a valuable experience.
"The program teaches them life skills they can take with them and apply to whatever area of career emphasis they have," said Hubacker, a 2000 Casa Grande graduate who was in the program for 13 years before becoming interim director last year. "High school students want to have the opportunity to make some sort of impact on the world around them. This program provides that opportunity and empowers them. They learn that they can do something. That's what makes this program so special. The hatchery and this organization provide a unique learning opportunity that can't be found anywhere else."