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BPHS students conducting cutting-edge scientific research

BPHS students conducting cutting-edge scientific research

The average size of a five-year-old walleye in New York state is more than 18 inches long. But the average size of a walleye the same age in the Great Sacandaga Lake is only 15 inches. The “short” walleye appear to be more of the norm than the exception, leading to the question: Why? Students in the science research course at Broadalbin-Perth Jr./Sr. High School are using scientific data to find the answer.

Students are looking to find possible reasons why the walleye are not growing very fast and why many fishermen are not necessarily catching legal walleye, which is defined by New York state as a minimum of 15 inches in length. Their hypotheses include overfishing, environmental factors, a deficient trophic state, limited biomass, and sparse forage resources. The class has access to two pontoon boats, Patriot 1 and Patriot 2, that the district obtained through grants and fundraising, to collect data on the lake.

“The science research course offers our students an opportunity to engage in real science, collect real data, and work with professional agencies such as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC),” said teacher Brian Henry, who developed the course. “To be able to do this kind of work on a ‘floating classroom’ on the Great Sacandaga Lake is providing them with an experience like no other.”

According to Henry, walleye populations in the Great Sacandaga Lake are influenced by various factors including available forage, habitat, interspecies competition, sport fishing, and stocking. These variables have shown both positive and negative impacts on walleye success rates in the Great Sacandaga Lake.

Students in Henry’s science research class focus their efforts on the natural resources and the educational opportunities that the Great Sacandaga Lake provides. As part of the course, students have engaged in the numerous methodologies and protocols associated with research design, data collection, analysis, and report writing. They have had ongoing discussions with members of the Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation (GSLFF), the Great Sacandaga Lake Advisory Council (GSLAC), and the NYSDEC, which all support establishing scientific studies on the lake to help understand various components of the lake’s ecosystem.

In 2023, the class was granted a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation tagging permit to tag 1,000 hatchery-raised walleye before they were released into the Sacandaga. The tagging event took place on Nov. 14, 2023. Students used a program called Visible Implant Elastomer (VIE) to tag the walleye permanently behind their left eye. VIE is a harmless latex dye that is injected into the juvenile walleye that allows for tracking of their growth when they are caught. The plan is to use different colored dyes to indicate the year the fish were tagged; this year, the class used pink dye.

Now, the students are hoping local anglers will help their research by submitting the lengths of marked fish that they catch. Collecting this data will allow the students to see how quickly or slowly the walleye are growing in Great Sacandaga Lake. Fishermen can submit the data from their catch by scanning a QR code located at local bait shops, clicking the link below, or contacting Henry at As an incentive for fishermen to submit their data, the class is offering $25 gift certificates to local bait shops for confirmed catches.

Submit your data: If you catch one of the tagged walleye on the GSL, visit to submit photos and information about your catch. Provide your email address for a chance to win a $25 gift card.

The DEC tagging permit was one of the first ever granted to a high school research class. The permit was no doubt granted in part because of the class’s track record for conducting high quality scientific research.

In 2022, the Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation tasked B-P’s science research class with determining whether the federation’s stocking efforts were contributing to the population of walleye in the lake. Since 2012, the GSLFF has stocked the lake annually with approximately 6,000 hatchery-reared juvenile walleye. According to Henry, stocking is an important management tool to increase and sustain highly pressured fish populations. It can enhance recreational fishing, improve fishing populations, and keep bodies of water environmentally balanced. Understanding whether the stocking program is making a difference in the walleye population of the lake would allow the GSLFF to modify or enhance their stocking efforts.

To help the GSLFF better understand the effects of its stocking program, students in the science research class designed a study to answer two key questions: What is the genetic contribution of stocked versus wild fish in the adult (harvestable) population? And are the stocked walleye reproducing in the lake or are they experiencing a lower fitness than the natural population? The students worked with NYSDEC fisheries biologists to collect tissue samples of adult walleye caught on the Great Sacandaga Lake. They submitted tissue samples of these walleye to a genetics lab at West Virginia University to complete a genetic analysis of the caught walleye compared with the hatchery-raised stocked walleye. The data shows that the hatchery-raised walleye are contributing to the overall population of the lake, with an average of 7.6% ancestry from the hatchery population in the wild population. Hatchery ancestry of the walleye in the genetic study ranged from 0.7% to 68%. The data the students collected for this study is currently in review for publication in an international scientific journal.

Henry says that Broadalbin-Perth’s science research class allows students to acquire the necessary skills, responsibilities, and knowledge to be good stewards of freshwater environments. Graduates who have taken the class have gone on to pursue degrees in the sciences in college.

“This course has been a game-changer for our kids,” Henry said. “There is no better way for students to learn science than by doing science. I am very proud to say that my students are making a difference and it is something that should be celebrated.”

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