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Preparing for freedom

Students in Casa Grande High School's United Anglers program are giving their young steelhead trout a clip job, an important step in preparing the fish to be released into the wild.

It is a simple procedure — just snip off a part of the small adipose fin, which is located between the dorsal fin and tail.

The problem isn't the complexity of the operation. The problem is the quantity. The students are faced with clipping 40,000 slippery, squirming fingerlings.

"It's not exactly easy," says student Jessica Wells. "They are very slimy."

Wells explains that the clipping allows fishermen to quickly determine if the fish they catch is a hatchery fish, and therefore legal to keep, or a wild steelhead, which must be released.

United Anglers' advisor Dan Hubacher adds that the procedure can also allow researchers to trace a fish's genetic coding back to the hatchery where it was raised.

"It is absolutely crucial," Hubacher says. "Tissue samples can map out where the fish came from and help us trace its family tree."

Clipping is common practice in hatcheries throughout California and the entire Northwest.

United Angler Sami Stevens points out that the procedure doesn't injure or even hurt the fish. "It's just fatty tissue," she explains.

The clipping is a necessary step in raising the steelhead in the Casa Grande hatchery, the only licensed school hatchery in the nation.

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