Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Results anticipated in Champlain salmon pen-rearing

Plattsburgh, N.Y. — Thousands of boaters and anglers walked or floated by the six net pens near the Plattsburgh Boat Basin on Lake Champlain last spring, having no idea about the important science taking part in those pens.

The nearly 20,000 young Atlantic salmon in the temporary structures were part of an effort to determine whether having them spend several weeks at the mouth of the Saranac River will result in their return to the river when it comes time to spawn. Program managers hope to increase the survival of stocked salmon smolts for greater returns of adults to tributaries for improved angling opportunities and spawning.

The hatchery-raised fish spent three weeks in the pens before they were released, with hopes they would “imprint” on the area to return with hopes of naturally reproducing. The study is part of continuing efforts to improve spawning of the landlocked salmon that are a big draw for anglers.

Trout Unlimited, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation are overseeing the study, which was in its second year in 2022. A companion pen-imprinting project has been taking place in the Salmon River on Lake Ontario. Volunteers from Trout Unlimited, SUNY Plattsburgh and Paul Smith’s College helped monitor the Champlain fish during their stay.

With the volunteer assistance to watch and feed the penned fish for their three-week stay, “there isn’t too much involvement fiscally” to pursue the Lake Champlain program, said DEC Region 5 Fisheries Manager Robert Fiorentino.

“It has worked really well,” Fiorentino said.

Return rates of the lot of 6-inch Atlantic salmon that were stocked into net pens will be compared to a second lot that was directly stocked into the water at the same site where the smolts were released from the pens. Fin clippings from fish that are caught by anglers in the future will aid the comparison.

Fiorentino said the fish were placed in pens at a development stage, transitioning from smolt to parr, where the imprinting is hoped to occur.

The comparison of returns between the two stocking methods will determine if pen-rearing results in greater survival and homing than conventional, direct stocking, according to DEC.

“Next year is when we should start seeing the return of some of these fish,” Fiorentino said.

Trout Unlimited’s Lake Champlain Chapter had a team of its members feed the salmon keep an eye on the pens to ensure the fish made it to the release date.

Bill Wellman, past president with Lake Champlain TU, said members were glad to help.

“North Country anglers hope DEC’s efforts to increase Atlantic salmon returns to the Saranac are successful. All of us TU folks, anglers or not, are equally eager to see more of this magnificent fish return to its historic spawning grounds,” Wellman said.

In a news release, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos thanked Trout Unlimited members for their assistance with the program.

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