J. Wayne Burgess, Morgan, Johnny W.
News Release Distributed 11/07/03
"Let’s go fishing" are the buzz words around the elementary and junior high schools in Plaquemines Parish – thanks to LSU AgCenter 4-H agent Wayne Burgess and some outstanding volunteers.
According to Burgess, who is an LSU AgCenter 4-H agent in Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes, aquatic education has been part of his program for the past eight years.
"What we do is bring the kids out during the last two weeks of October and the first week of November to teach them about water safety and to have fun fishing," Burgess said, adding that the fourth graders through eighth graders get to spend a day in Buras as part of their 4-H aquatic education program.
"When we get down here in the morning, we teach them boat safety, bait casting and how to tie knots for their hooks, because everyone has to put their own hooks on," Burgess said.
Groups of young people spend about 15 minutes learning about each of those topics. Then the groups rotate. Once they’ve rotated through all the lessons, it’s time for them to start fishing.
Burgess attributes the success of the program to the volunteers and the people from different agencies that help him with supplies and educational materials.
"Each year we try to have someone from the Coast Guard, the Marine Division of the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Department and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries come out and help us with the program," he said.
Members from 11 different 4-H Clubs in the area participate in the program each year.
"We’ve been fortunate to have some great donors like the late Mr. Dominick Ditchero, whose family owns a shrimp processing plant here and gives us about 20 pounds of shrimp for each club to use as bait," Burgess said of the cooperation.
Although Ditchero was killed in a car accident earlier this year, Burgess said Ditchero always said that as long as the shrimp were for the kids he had no problem giving them away. Since his death, the family has said they will continue to provide shrimp for the youngsters to use in this activity.
Other supporters of the program include Conoco-Phillips Petroleum Refinery, which made donations the past two years to purchase fishing rods, and the area’s Shakesphere representative, who has given discounts on the equipment.
"The idea behind of the program is to learn something about fishing, size limits, rules of fishing, boat safety and why you shouldn’t litter – just common sense stuff," Burgess said.
Some of the young people catch as many as 12 to 15 fish on their day out, and it doesn’t seem to matter to them whether they get to keep them or not. They’re just happy and proud of their accomplishments.
Megan Gaines, a fourth grader at Belle Chase Primary School, caught one of the bigger fish of the day recently but said that catch wasn’t her first.
"I’ve been fishing and caught a big fish before," Gaines said. "It’s a lot of fun, but you don’t want to stick your hand in a fish’s mouth. One almost bit me."
Roland Bergeron, a volunteer leader who has a son in the fourth grade who participated in the program, said this type of program should be in schools worldwide.
"My son is running around showing the other kids, because he knows how to fish," Bergeron said, adding, "I come from a fishing family, and we fish a lot."
Bergeron also said such activities teach young people more than just how to fish. It teaches them about the marshland, respect for the water and survival, he said.
"That’s part of my heritage, what my dad taught me, and we’re teaching him," Bergeron said of his son.
Burgess estimates that 500 students will go through the program by the third week. For information on the variety of activities offered through the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H youth development program, contact your parish LSU AgCenter office or visit www.lsuagcenter.com.