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Coal transition: Raising fish and a workforce with an economic development grant

Rainbow trout swim in a tank.
Jeremy Long
Rainbow trout swim in a tank at Onalaska High School in Onalaska, Washington on March 5, 2024.

About a half an hour from Centralia, at Onalaska High School, Kevin Hoffman teaches career and technical education courses, like wood shop, metal work, and aquaculture.

Hoffman applied for and got two TransAlta grants totaling $65,000 to upgrade the school’s fish hatchery program to one that rivals commercial operations. That money was among $2 million that has gone to develop educational programs.

When he started at the school, the program was raising about 1,000 pounds of fish. Now it’s up to about 7,000 pounds each year.

Students do everything from feeding fish to constructing the new hatchery. Hoffman said students have to make careful measurements and problem-solve.

The students’ work has made a big impact on the local lake. They release up to 10,000 rainbow trout that can be caught and taken home. About 600 of those are between 6 and 8 pounds, making for an exciting opening day of fishing season. Hoffman said he’s seen people that come from Seattle and Portland–each a two-hour drive away. Some people come from even farther.

It’s important to Hoffman that the program gives back to the community.

Even though very few of his students leave school for a career in fisheries, Hoffman said they are gaining skills that would be valuable to any employer.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY.