Wildlife Watch: Biologists aim to boost landlocked Atlantic salmon wild fishery in Clyde River

Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 1:58 PM EDT
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NEWPORT, Vt. (WCAX) - Work is underway in the Northeast Kingdom as part of an ongoing effort to help boost the wild fishery of landlocked Atlantic salmon.

Vermont Fish and Wildlife biologist Peter Emerson has an eye for fish. “There could be 20 fish in this hole right now,” he said, pointing out a stretch of the Clyde River in Newport. “Right now, we are getting natural reproduction in the lower river. We are seeing juvenile fish, but what we are trying to do is create a larger wild fishery up above.”

The salmon naturally want to head upstream, but dams can get in the way. “We are not coming down to the river and pulling them out of the river and saying you have got to go above the dam. We are saying, ‘Hey, if you’re so inclined, we will build you a ladder. If you want to go up that ladder, we will have a place for you at the top that will help you get upriver where you want to be,’” Emerson said. “The further up the river they go the better chance that that fish are going to grow up big and strong, not get eaten, and have an opportunity to make it to the lake.”

Emerson says the fish ladders and other methods on the Clyde are designed to help the fish get higher up. “When they get to the top of the ladder they end up in a holding tank and they can stay there for a couple of days. The water is fresh, they are safe and free from predation,” he said.

At the holding tank, the fish are tagged with passive integrated transponders and also clip on the fin to help identify the fish. Emerson says the transponders can later be picked up by as many as three antennas mounted into the dam or set in the bedrock of the river bottom. “With that tag in place, we then move them upriver -- let them go -- and as they migrate back downstream after the spawn, we can track them as they cross this antenna down here at the bottom,” he said.

Vermont Fish and Wildlife stocks this fishery. “We call it a ‘put, grow, and take fishery. We put them in as juveniles. They go to the lake. There’s a lot of food out there. They eat that food, they get big fast, they come back in a year-and-half and are ready to reproduce. It’s a vital piece to the cycle of life that we are injecting into the river,” Emerson said.

And a big part of this effort to restore the fish population, he says. The state is currently looking at what strain of landlocked Atlantic salmon to use in the future. “Success is are there more Sebago then Magog? The answer is more Sebago. Then we switch strains. How do we measure success overall in this fishery?” Emerson said. “At the end of the day it’s entirely meant to be a recreational fishery and we want to make sure that there are more of those fish available for people to fish for. Because people are buying licenses and putting money into this, the best thing we can do as a conservation agency, is see to it that we have a natural fishery. So, the best of both worlds is wild reproduction above and a robust fishery here in the river.”

Anglers who catch and harvest salmon should look for PIT transponders and report them to the department: peter.emerson@vermont.gov

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