Cooperative effort for better fishing

If you fish on Lake Ontario or any of the tributaries that flow into that particular Great Lake, one perfect way to help yourself – and other anglers for that matter – is to volunteer for any one of the 10 salmon and trout pen rearing projects scattered along the south shore of the lake, from the Niagara River in the west all the way to Little Salmon River in the east.

Started in 1998 in the Oak Orchard River at Point Breeze in Orleans County and Oswego Harbor in Oswego County, the effort to help Mother Nature along expanded to include three sites in Niagara County (Olcott, Wilson and Youngstown); Sandy Creek and the Genesee River in Monroe County; Little Sodus Bay and Sodus Bay in Wayne County; and the two Oswego County projects in Oswego Harbor and Little Salmon River. The purpose of the projects was initially two-fold: improve the survival rate of fish being stocked into the lake and imprint the fish to an artificial “home” so they return to these same waters when they mature.

The projects turned out to be much more than that. It created a cooperative environment between individuals, local businesses, the fishing community and the Department of Environmental Conservation – all working together for a common goal. It brought families together to help feed the fish and watch them grow before they were released. Other groups like science students in local schools or Boy Scout troops became involved, learning about the biology of raising fish and giving them a feeling of accomplishment.

On April 11, the Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Association will be spearheading the effort in Olcott starting at 9 a.m. The plan is to put the pens together and get them into the water at the Town of Newfane Marina to have them ready for the fish when they arrive from the Salmon River Fish Hatchery in Altmar. That same type of unselfish cooperation will be going on all along the lake. In Orleans County, the Oak Orchard Business Association takes the lead at Point

Breeze; their construction party was set for April 4. It’s a great feel-good project that epitomizes a win-win situation if there ever was one.

When the salmon arrive they are tiny – something like 150 to a pound. When they are ready to be released, they have nearly doubled in size and are ready to take on the world.  Every day they are in the pens they must be fed five times a day. That’s one of the biggest responsibilities, and one of the reasons they need so many volunteers to complete the task at hand.

In 2014, DEC stocked over 500,000 Chinook salmon and over 60,000 steelheads through these pens. For the salmon, this was 26 percent of the state’s stocking, which is extremely important. Thanks to ongoing research being conducted, pen-reared salmon survive two to one to direct-stocked fish from the Salmon River facility. Once the current study is completed, we’ll probably see even more salmon being reared in the pens … giving everyone more fish to catch!

So make some time in your busy schedules to help out the salmon and trout pen rearing project nearest you! If you are too far away, I can guarantee that there is some conservation-type project being run to enhance our state’s natural resources. Join a club and do your part to help get it done.

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