Pen projects' unsung heroes
It’s all about what’s going on behind the scenes to make our sportfishing resource one of the best on the planet. Yes, we know about the fish hatcheries themselves and the personnel who collect the fish eggs, hatch them and get them ready for fish stockings each spring – the salmon and trout for the Great Lakes. But it doesn’t stop there.
There’s a long list of other people who not only spearhead the pen-rearing projects, but there’s an even longer list of volunteers who help to feed and nurture the fish while they are in those pens. There are also others who monitor the water flow in the tributaries to make sure the fish are being planted in areas that are viable locations. They want to ensure the fish will be able to make it to the lake and survive any of the direct stockings, too. Water temperatures are being looked at as well. Everything must be taken into consideration.
Using Niagara County as an example, it started with a late announcement on April 5 that the steelhead identified for the pens in Youngstown, Wilson and Olcott would be arriving the following week. It sent the fishing clubs and local communities scrambling last-minute to get their pens ready and in the water. The Niagara River Anglers Association was the coordinator for the Lower Niagara River Project and the organization sent out alerts through their website and internal communications network. In Olcott, it was the Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Association using their website and email network of previous volunteers. In Wilson, it was a mix of harbor charter captains, town board members and local businesses supplying the manpower for the effort.
After the pens are in place, volunteers are needed to help feed the fish in their artificial homes for the next several weeks. Based on growth and water temperatures, these fish will grow much larger and become more acclimated to the waters that will become their natal streams. Survival rates will improve and they will become imprinted to the chemical composition of the waters so that they return when it comes time to answer their spawning urges. It’s an important process that has a positive outcome for the fishery.
In addition to the fish survival, it pulls the community together for the greater good. It also gets the fishermen and local businesses working with DEC to help the fish along. The Niagara County Fisheries Development Board goes so far as having some of its members monitor water flow and water temperatures for DEC to make sure the fish have a much better chance of survival. In 2012, water flow was poor in Keg Creek to the east of Olcott. In an effort to ensure a much greater survival, the stocking was moved to Eighteen Mile Creek. Instead of stocking in the creeks at Twelve Mile and Four Mile, adjustments were made to move the fish to either Wilson Harbor or the mouth of the Four Mile Creek to give the fish more of a fighting chance.
These are all volunteers with the sole purpose of enhancing New York’s Great Lakes fisheries. We can find them up and down the lakeshore, in every county from Niagara to the Thousands Islands, as well as in the counties along Lake Erie. Here’s a special “thank you” for all the hard work and unselfish efforts that take place behind the scenes. Remember that next time you catch a fish in New York’s Great Lakes.