A Little Boy And His Big Fish Tale

A Little Boy And His Big Fish Tale
Posted on 11/17/2021

This is no big fish story, this fish tale is true and happening right now.

Declan O'Reilly is a third grader at Keller Elementary School and he has a dream to bring back the Arctic Grayling into the waterways of Michigan.

Declan's mom, Laura Shultz, describes her son as an excellent student, a really nice kid who definitely has passion. She says he's a bit introverted but liked by many, and is a "normal" third grader who enjoys fencing, basketball, and fish.

She said Declan has always been into fishing. He was introduced to fishing as a little boy fishing with his Grandpa on the Au Sable River.

Declan Fishing with Grandpa

At five years old when other kids may have been having Paw Patrol birthday parties, Declan had a fish-themed party.

Declan Fish Party

And this year, on his 9th birthday, he asked to not receive presents from his friends and family but donations instead for the Arctic Grayling Reintroduction Fund.

Drive By Van

Happy Birthday

Because of the threat of the pandemic, the O'Reilly family decided to host a drive-by party for Declan. Friends, family members, a fire truck, and members of the Royal Oak Police department drove by to wish Declan a happy birthday and made donations to the fund.

Drive By with Police

That day almost $1400 was raised, and to date, they are closer to $1500 raised.

The passion for the Arctic Grayling started this past summer when the family was in northern Michigan and visited the Oden State Fish Hatchery and the Michigan Fisheries Visitors Center. A sticker caught Declan's eye and he bought it. It was of the Arctic Grayling, a fish that can grow to be 30" long, has rainbow-colored, iridescent gills and a large unique dorsal fin. Declan's mom described the sticker as eye-catching and different, and credits the sticker with putting her son on the path to help bring back the Arctic Grayling to Michigan.

Sticker that Started it all

She described the initiative as gathering eggs from the Grayling from Alaska and reintroduce them here. "I had no idea this would get so big," she said after her brother created a logo for Declan's passion that they added to t-shirts and stickers to sell on a website to continue raising funds for the project.

On the 9th birthday, the Michigan DNR sent those same Arctic Grayling stickers to Laura to be used as party favors for those that drove by the party.

Birthday Items

When Laura called to thank the DNR and tell them how much money they had raised, a partnership was born. The DNR started to create special opportunities for Declan to visit hatcheries and learn more about fish. They even set up a fish biologist to Zoom with Declan and that's when the family realized that this initiative could get bigger if shared with more people. Enter Declan's teacher, Jacqueline James, and a special program in her classroom to take place on Monday, November 22. The Zoom will now be shown to her entire class so all of the students can learn about the Arctic Grayling and more from Ed Eisch, a fisheries biologist who oversees all six of Michigan's fish hatcheries and the Arctic Grayling brood stock program. Laura said about Declan, "he doesn't really know how impactful he is."

"As educators we always hope that our students will take what they have learned beyond our school walls. Declan's inquiry and actions were the perfect example of what being an IB (International Baccalaureate) student is all about," said Marcie Dryden, Keller Elementary School Principal. "As his principal I could not be any prouder of his passion for this project and for spreading awareness to his school community."

Declan has even created an Arctic Grayling Club with three other members.

Arctic Grayling Club

Arctic Grayling Club Meeting

(L to R: Garrett Johnson, Mauricio Straulino, Declan O'Reilly, Edison Johnson)

At their first meeting they discussed the project over a power point presentation and Gold Fish crackers, said Laura Shultz.

If this story has you hooked on finding out more, here are some helpful resources:

Arctic Grayling Fish