A SUNY ESF professor is leading an experimental effort to restore Atlantic salmon in Onondaga Lake, a Central New York waterway that was once listed as among the most polluted in the state.
Since 2014, Neil Ringler, provost and executive director of the ESF Onondaga Lake Science Center, and his graduate students have been stocking Atlantic salmon fry and fingerlings, which are up to 3 to 4 inches long, in Nine Mile Creek.
Each year, some 2,000 to 4,000 Atlantics have been put in the popular trout fishing stream, which is a tributary of Onondaga Lake. Another stocking of nearly 4,000 is scheduled for Tuesday.
The fish that will be stocked, Ringler said, are being held at the Carpenter’s Brook Fish Hatchery in Elbridge.
Atlantic salmon are the state’s only native salmon. Their fight when hooked and tasty pink meat is prized by anglers.
Up until the late 1800s, Atlantic salmon were widespread in many waterways in Upstate New York. They were found in great numbers in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River and many tributaries of those waterways.
The made their way into the interior waters of the Oswego River system, Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida and Onondaga lakes. They spawned in tributaries of Lake Champlain. Historical accounts of their presence are eye-opening.
“Salmon were so abundant that men stood on a log across Salmon Creek and speared them with pitchforks in the ‘fish shoal.’ Women often caught a salmon with their hands or in their aprons,” noted Cornell fisheries professor Dwight Webster, in his 1984 paper titled, “Early History of Atlantic Salmon in New York.”
However, over-fishing and other techniques to harvest them, coupled with the building of dams that stopped their spawning runs and pollution, all took its toll on the fish species. They disappeared from the state’s waters.
In recent years, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Canadian fisheries officials, U.S. Geological Survey and private fish and game clubs have contributed in efforts to bring this fish species back on the New York scene using a landlocked species of Atlantic salmon, taken from a lake in Maine. The landlocks spend their entire lives in freshwater.
According to the DEC: “Stocking programs (of land-locked species of Atlantic Salmon) have supported fisheries in 13 watersheds (across the state) but recruitment from natural spawning remains low.”
One exception, though, has been stocking efforts in Lake Ontario and some of its…
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