Almost every morning since the sixth grade, Samantha Cendro, 17, has been waking up at 6:30 so she can get in a couple of hours of surfing at the Huntington Beach Pier.

“Surfing helps me relax,” said the senior who is a member of Huntington Beach High School's varsity surf team. “I have always loved the ocean.”

It’s this love that propelled her to lead her school’s participation in the “Seabass in the Classroom” program, which includes partners Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Get Inspired, Inc. It is also funded in part by Edison International.

The fish are cultured at the Hubbs-SeaWorld hatchery in Carlsbad and delivered to the various participating schools in Southern California, including Orange Coast College. The STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) focused program provides a hands-on experience about aquaculture and stock enhancement.

“It’s a unique opportunity students do not get in textbooks or the classrooms,” said Mike Shane, a research scientist at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and a “Seabass in the Classroom” program coordinator. “It’s giving them an unprecedented hands-on experience.”

During Cendro’s sophomore year, she tended to her school’s tank systems for the sea bass. In addition to testing for water quality, ensuring a consistent temperature of between 64 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, she would anesthetize the fish, inserting the chemical tricaine into their cheeks. This helps the students tag the fish so they can be monitored after they are released.

Once the sea bass have reached the juvenile stage, they are released into the ocean. Cendro got her scuba license so she could help release the fish during a four-day trip to Catalina. Swimming about 50 feet below the surface, she released her fish near the area’s kelp forest.

“It was a really cool experience,” said Cendro. “It was incredible to see the project all the way through. That the fish were released successfully and they made it.”

During the 1950s to the 1980s, annual catches of California’s white sea bass saw a decrease from over 55,000 to less than 3,500. Partly as a result, the long-term “Seabass in the Classroom” project was started in 1983.

In August 2013, the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute released its 2 millionth white seabass. In addition, adult fish have been recovered up to 13 years after they were released and more than 350 miles from where they entered the ocean.

Kim Anthony, a Southern California Edison (SCE) marine biologist, has participated in the program’s sea bass release and thinks it is a unique opportunity for students to learn about animal husbandry and depleted fish stocks.

“It brings the ocean to the classroom for kids who don’t always have the opportunity to be in the ocean and in the water,” she said.

Cendro recently wrote a research paper on the “Seabass in the Classroom” project and presented it before the California Academy of Sciences. Her dream is to eventually attend USC and pursue a degree in physics and astronautical engineering.

“I like all sciences,” she said. And with this project, “we are restoring animals to their natural habitat.”