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New effort underway to reintroduce salmon to Saranac River

Published: Apr. 8, 2021 at 5:26 PM EDT
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PLATTSBURGH N.Y. (WCAX) - Lake Champlain is home to a number of fish species and wildlife officials in New York are continuing their ongoing conservation efforts to bring back landlocked Atlantic salmon to the Saranac River watershed.

In a first-of-its-kind effort, biologists with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation spent the week introducing 26,000 salmon smolt at the mouth of the Saranac River in Plattsburgh.

The process started Monday when six pens went into the water. Pen projects are nothing new to the DEC. It’s something the state has used with other fish species over the last 20 years, but never Atlantic salmon. “This is the first time it’s ever been done in New York, maybe the first time it’s ever been done anywhere,” said the DEC’s Steve Hurst. The fish are native to the Saranac River, but their populations have been decimated over the centuries by dams and other habitat degradation.

Hurst says the smolt will stay in the pens for the next three weeks before being released. “They are going through a change in their body, getting ready to go from a stream environment out to a lake,” he said. They will head into the lake for the next three years. “They’ll home back to this site because they were imprinted here,” Hurst said.

The regular stock of salmon will be released too in order to test if the pens really worked. That’s where the chip comes into play for the DEC’s data, and it’s a process that’s proven to be successful. “Twenty-six thousand today and 26,000 thousand they are actually going to stock in the river, and we are going to see which ones do best,” said Don Lee, a volunteer with Trout Unlimited, who is helping out on the project.

“Pen fish outperform direct stock fish on a two-to-one ratio,” Hurst said.

And if everything goes according to plan, Atlantic salmon will call the Saranac River home once again. “We have a little bit of reproduction in the river now but we are hoping for a lot more, hoping for natural reproduction,” Lee said.

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