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Reeling in the research; Perham student gains international attention for minnow project

Trisha Marczak/FOCUS Sam Stafki, a senior at Perham High School, was recently awarded a bronze medal at the International Sustainable World Project Olympiad in Houston, Texas for his research relating to fathead minnows.

There were a few factors driving Perham senior Sam Stafki in his internationally recognized environmental research project.

An avid outdoorsman and son of the high school's biology teacher, his whole life seems to be a science project.

"Everywhere I go with him (dad) is basically a science lesson," Stafki said.

So when he heard an observation relating to minnows and duck populations during a trip to the Prairie Wetlands Science Center in Fergus Falls, his ears perked up.

The tour guide said ponds consisting of fat head minnows tend to not hold the duck population like those areas without a minnow population. That's when Stafki started researching.

He said he wasn't able to find much research in that particular area. So he started to do some of his own.

He discovered that pimiphales promelas, commonly known as fathead minnows, feed off macroinvertebrates and small plant life - which also serve as the main source of food for ducks, particularly during their developing years.

In areas where there are no natural predators for minnows, like in ponds and wetlands, this can deter ducks from nursing and spending time in that area, Stafki said.

Fathead minnows are considered invasive species, as they're often put there by humans who use the minnows for fishing bait. Considering they reproduce rapidly, Stafki said it's common to yield large quantities from simply populating a certain area of wetland.

But that could have a negative consequence when it comes time for duck hunting season. Stafki said there are patterns showing that, for many proposed reasons, ducks are migrating away from the Minnesota area.

A fisherman and hunter himself, Stafki said he wants to make sure that Minnesota's natural resources stay intact.

That was the message he carried this month to the International Sustainable World Project Olympiad (Energy, Engineering and Environment), or I-SWEEP, in Houston, Texas, where he earned a bronze medal for his research presentation.

I-SWEEP consists of more than 600 students from 70 countries and 43 states who compete for medals and thousands of dollars in scholarships.

Stafki's trek to Texas came after the regional competition this winter at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

His bronze medal includes a $400 cash scholarship he can use at any college, which for him will be the University of Minnesota, Crookston. Pursuing a degree in environmental science, Stafki's days of researching are just beginning.

"It was very fun," he said. "I absolutely loved doing it."