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Students in Casa Grande High School's United Anglers program will help release 1,000 young steelhead trout into San Francisco Bay in a ceremony at the Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies on Sunday, Oct. 30.

It won't be the same as the ceremony that was originally planned, however. The students had planned to help release 60,000 young Chinook salmon, but twice earlier this month vandals cut the zip-ties of the bayside nets in Tiburon, releasing the fish prematurely and depriving the students of the opportunity to celebrate their achievements and to cheer the release of the salmon.

The students, members of the school's nationally acclaimed fish hatchery program, had raised 40,000 of the salmon from eggs and were looking forward to the event.

The steelhead trout that the students will release instead are being supplied by the California Department of Fish & Game, who are bringing them to Tiburon in a tanker truck.

Gregory Gillis, a Casa senior who is president of the United Anglers, is disappointed with the situation, but he is already moving forward with his peers.

"It's frustrating because we spent 10 months taking care of the fish — we were there on holidays and weekends," said Gillis. "I'm disappointed because this was our last chance as seniors to release the fish this year, and we lost out on that opportunity."

"I was in shock that someone could go in and destroy a year's worth of work done by students," said United Anglers teacher Dan Hubacker.

The fish had been in the nets since mid June, but had been raised from their eggs by the Anglers since January. "We put them in the net pens until the last week of October. This is the time that the fish acclimate to salt water, because they were originally born in fresh water, and get used to the food and environment," said Hubacker.

"The main concern is the stress that this caused the animals," said Hubacker. "The problem is that we are supposed to release them all at once, so they go off as huge group together. Instead, whoever cut open the nets only did half of them the first time, so the fish were staggered in their release." The fish will survive, despite their early, and less than ideal, release.

There are several theories as to who might have committed the act, but no one has been accused. "It could have been anyone from animal rights activists to vandalism by kids, but somebody is accountable for this," said Hubacker. The Marin County Sheriff's Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Fish & Game have been investigating the Oct. 5 and Oct. 8 vandalism.

"Right now it is out of my hands," said Hubacker. "The students have been handling the situation really well — they have taken a sour situation and made it into something great. They are getting the word out, and trying to educate the public about what they do."

Due to the media coverage on the vandalism, the Anglers are receiving private donations that number in the thousands. It takes $75,000 a year just to operate the facilities on campus. There will be a pasta feed fund-raiser on Nov. 5 at the Petaluma Community Center to help raise money for the program. Admission is free and there will be a silent auction, wine auction, and a raffle at the event.

"All we can do is keep our heads up. We've always had vandalism in the past, but nothing like this," said Gillis.

(Contact Sheridan Kowta at argus@arguscourier.com)