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Salmon River Fish Hatchery

father and son fishing the salmon river
Father and son fishing
the Salmon River

Each year the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) releases over one million pounds of fish into more than 1200 public streams, rivers, lakes and ponds across the state. These fish are stocked for two main purposes -- to restore native species to waters they formerly occupied and to enhance recreational fishing.

Built in 1980, the Salmon River Fish Hatchery specializes in raising steelhead, chinook salmon, coho salmon, brown trout and landlocked salmon. Originally constructed to revive and enhance the fishery of the Great Lakes, this facility provides most of the fish for the now multi-million dollar Lake Ontario salmonid fishery. Each year this hatchery produces more than 2,000,000 fingerlings (young fish 3-5 inches long) and close to 1,000,000 yearlings (fish one year old or over).

Located in Altmar, NY, the Salmon River Fish Hatchery supplies fish for more than 100 public waters including Lake Ontario. Each year, the hatchery stocks 3.5 million trout and salmon, and nine million walleye fry. Serving an eleven-county area, hatchery personnel travel many miles delivering fish to their designated stocking sites. The fish are transported on trucks that are specially equipped with tanks of oxygenated water. Small fish are loaded onto the stocking trucks by hand via the use of scap nets, while larger fish are usually loaded by means of a device called a fish pump.

Most fish are stocked directly into the designated water from the truck. Occasionally boats or aircraft are used to stock fish at a specific offshore location.

Fingerling coho salmon are stocked each fall at a length of 4 to 5 inches. Chinook fingerlings are stocked in the spring and average 3 inches in length. Yearling fish (6 to 9 inches long) are stocked from late March though mid-June. In addition, large numbers of young chinook, coho and steelhead are released directly from a holding pond at the hatchery. These fish return in later years as spawning adults.

Raising Fish in the Salmon River Hatchery

Fish raised at the Salmon River Hatchery come from a variety of sources. Steelhead, chinook salmon and coho salmon all develop from eggs taken from wild broodstock that return to the hatchery to spawn. Brown trout raised here are transferred in as eggs or fingerlings from other DEC hatcheries. Landlocked salmon are received as either eyed eggs (fish eye visible, egg close to hatching) or as fingerlings from the Adirondack Fish Hatchery.

Eggs are placed in special incubators that are supplied with a constant flow of water. The water temperature is what determines the amount of time it takes for the eggs to develop. Shortly after the eggs hatch, the emergents (called sac fry) are transferred into rearing units. At first, these tiny fry are nourished by the yolk sac that protrudes from their abdominal region.

After most of the yolk sac has been absorbed, the fry are ready to feed and a dry starter diet is provided. Since dry diets are available in a variety of food sizes, the size can be increased accordingly as the fish continue to grow. The amount of food to be fed each day is also adjusted as necessary to assure optimum growth and development.

Small fish are fed by hand eight times a day. Fingerlings are fed by hand six to eight times a day. Yearlings are fed by hand four to six times a day and may also be supplemented with food dispensed from automatic feeders.

Larger fish are raised in open raceways
Concrete raceways for raising
larger fish

As the fish grow, the amount of space necessary to rear them increases. The initial rearing stage requires the use of 56 aluminum start tanks. Each tank is cleaned daily to remove accumulated fish waste. Larger fingerlings and yearling fish are raised in 24 large outdoor concrete raceways, and four new outdoor circular tanks provide additional space for raising steelhead and landlocked salmon.

To ensure the fish grow properly and stay healthy, routine samples of the fish are taken to assess rate of growth and overall condition. In addition, fish are monitored on a daily basis for any health problems that may occur.

Interestingly, water is a key component in raising fish. On average, the Salmon River Fish Hatchery uses a water flow of 10,000 gallons per minute. Available water sources include creek, well and river. Water temperatures range from 34 degrees to 74 degrees depending on seasonal fluctuations.

Pumped well water is available at a rate of 700 gallons per minute. Gravity flow water from the Salmon River is available at a flow of 10,000 gallons per minute. These water sources may be used alone or combined. In addition, there is a series of five shallow wells that supply the circular rearing tanks with approximately 500 gallons per minute of water.

What Can I See at the Hatchery?

Various life stages of fish are present at the hatchery throughout the year. Eggs are present from mid-October to November and from mid-April to mid-May. From April though June you can see small fish. Fingerlings are present from April through November, and yearlings can be seen from April through May.

The spawning process (where eggs are taken from mature female fish and fertilized by mature male fish) can be viewed at various times from September to October and again in April.

Accessible Features

International Symbol of Accessibility

Self-guided tours of this accessible facility are available to observe what happens inside a working fish hatchery. There are informational exhibits and mounted fish. Accessible bathrooms are available as well. For current information on the fish and the hatchery call (315) 298-5051. There is designated accessible parking at the hatchery entrance.

Full listing of DEC's Accessible Recreation Destinations.

Hatchery Location

The Salmon River Fish Hatchery is located on County Route 22, one mile northeast of the Village of Altmar, Oswego County. The Hatchery is open to the public from April 1st (weather permitting - call the hatchery for the spring opening date) to November 30th, 8:30 am to 3:30 pm daily (these are new hours starting in 2010). Tours for organized groups may be arranged in advance by contacting the hatchery manager at 315-298-5051.

For more information on this and any of the other DEC hatcheries, you may contact the hatchery directly at 2133 County Route 22, Altmar, NY 13302, 315-298-5051 or contact any of the DEC's regional fisheries offices.