CAEP: Overview and History


The Classroom Aquarium Education Program (CAEP) will improve teacher and student understanding, appreciation, and stewardship of fishes, while creating an awareness of the needs of the aquatic environment through the use of classroom aquaria. This is accomplished by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) working with and supporting the efforts of locally based groups (referred to as community partners) who provide the teacher training and support necessary to make this program a reality.


The CDFW will work with and provide support to community partners working to enhance classroom educational experiences through the hatching and raising of fish to the fry stage. These experiences will be directly linked to state educational guidelines and standards. This program is not intended to supplement existing stocking programs, raise exotic species, raise fish for personal use, or raise fish for sale.

CAEP will be coordinated statewide and administered regionally as a cooperative project of CDFW Interpretive, Hatchery and Fisheries staff working in conjunction with community partners.

CDFW recognizes the significant contributions of community partners in the implementation and operation of this program and will work cooperatively with them.

CDFW shall support, monitor, certify and permit new and existing projects that hatch live fish in the classroom as an educational activity implemented by community partners in conjunction with CDFW.

Community partners shall assist CDFW to facilitate legal compliance with all aspects of the permit process including the release or disposition of fish.

Program History

"Fish in the Classroom” programs originated in British Columbia in the late 1970’s. As a part of the new “environmental movement,” classes hatched and released Salmon as an educational endeavor. The success of the program allowed it to “migrate” south through Washington, Oregon and into California.

In the 1980’s, a group of educators established the first programs in California. The program enjoyed explosive growth in the early days and has grown steadily since then, spawned by the energy and enthusiasm of community partners, most of them fly-fishing clubs. The methods and technology have changed over the years but the basic premise of the program remains the same: students study local aquatic habitats and the life history of the chosen salmonid, operate a chilled aquarium in their classroom, and receive eyed-eggs from CDFW hatcheries to raise to the fry stage. The fish are released into appropriate bodies of water within weeks.

The program is regulated through CDFW to ensure fish are only released into appropriate bodies of water to reduce spread of disease or mixing of genetic strains.

In 2000, CDFW created a statewide committee to provide greater support and assistance to the community partners, and it continues to grow, fueled largely by the support of the fly-fishing clubs and other community partners. 

This program is currently offered in many parts of the state. The species of fish varies around the state, as does the name of the program on a local level. Statewide, all programs operate under the umbrella name of “Classroom Aquarium Education Program” or CAEP. Locally the programs go by a variety of names including “Trout in the Classroom”, "Salmon and Steelhead Education Program (STEP)”, “Salmonids in the Classroom” and others.

Program Goals

  • Through a classroom experience of hatching live fish, CAEP will introduce students to the value of aquatic environments, the balance that must be met to maintain, protect and enhance California’s fisheries and aquatic habitats and enable students to understand how their actions affect these valuable resources.
  • Maintain a cooperative relationship with community partners working to provide teacher training and support.
  • Implement and support CAEP programs by supporting partners and nurturing partnerships.
  • Develop a set of guidelines for use in the CAEP program to be implemented statewide, yet flexible enough to meet needs and resources of all regions.
  • Instill in students a sense of awareness and personal responsibility for aquatic organisms and the state’s ecosystems.
  • Standardize statewide procedures for administering CAEP programs.
  • Develop a teacher certification process that will be recognized by groups statewide.
  • Protect the state’s genetic integrity of anadromous and resident fish populations in accordance with existing CDFW and NOAA FISHERIES regulations.

Program Objectives

  • Support a system of training to provide teachers with adequate information and resources to successfully hatch and raise fish to the fry stage in the classroom.
  • Establish a teacher certification system with minimum training requirements which is recognized statewide.
  • Support and promote existing community partners involved in classroom aquarium projects with goals aligned with the mission of CDFW.
  • Work with community partners to offer training and certification process for educators interested in participating in CAEP.
  • Provide needed support to classrooms involved in this project, as available.
  • Ensure educators have access to program materials for classroom and student use.
  • Prevent spread of disease to wild and hatchery fish stocks.
  • Establish and promote direct contacts between the CDFW and program participants (classroom teachers).
  • Promote public awareness of the need to maintain and protect aquatic habitats
  • Link CAEP to existing programs, services and materials currently offered by CDFW (e.g., Fishing in the City, Project WILD) and other organizations.
  • Utilize educational outreach to prevent the spread of nuisance species.
  • Help students recognize the contributions of hatcheries and wild fish programs to enhancement of the state’s fisheries.

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