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For Release: Monday, April 5, 2021

DEC Announces Net Pen-Rearing Projects for Atlantic Salmon in Lake Champlain and Lake Ontario

Following Success of Net Pen Programs for Other Species, DEC Anticipates Increased Survival of Stocked Smolts

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced the deployment of two new pen-rearing projects for Atlantic salmon to begin this spring. To improve post-stocking survival and imprinting to the stocked water, experimental Atlantic salmon pen-rearing projects will be conducted in the Saranac River estuary in Lake Champlain and in the Salmon River in Lake Ontario. DEC is partnering with the Lake Champlain Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Plattsburgh Boat Basin on the Saranac River project and partnering with the Tug Hill/Black River Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Salmon River Lighthouse and Marina on the Salmon River project.

"Atlantic salmon are a highly prized sport fish," said Commissioner Seggos. "Working with our partners from Trout Unlimited and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DEC hopes to increase the survival of stocked salmon smolts for greater returns of adults to tributaries for improved angling opportunities and spawning in these two major fisheries. I want to personally thank Trout Unlimited for helping make this possible as TU will be doing the day-to-day work to feed and care for these fish while they are in the pens."

Pen-rearing is a process in which young salmon (smolts) are stocked into net pens and held at the stocking site. At this life stage, the salmon will imprint on the river water and prepare to out-migrate to the lake system. The Trout Unlimited chapters will feed and care for the fish for approximately three weeks prior to release. DEC has been partnering with volunteer groups to pen-rear Chinook salmon and steelhead in Lake Ontario and Lake Erie for more than 20 years, and this method has improved the survival and imprinting for both species. Today's announcement is the first project to test if pen-rearing can have a similar beneficial impact on stocked Atlantic salmon.

Andrew Milliken, Project Leader and Complex Manager for Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office said, "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service looks forward to working with DEC, Trout Unlimited and the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative on this cutting edge project in the Saranac River to learn and improve returns of landlocked salmon to Lake Champlain tributaries, enhance tributary fisheries and increase natural reproduction."

Rich Redman, President of Trout Unlimited Lake Champlain Chapter said, "Landlocked Salmon are our chapters priority. This is one step to restore wild Atlantic salmon to the Saranac River. Now is the time to restore the river habitat itself, to allow the cold water species like salmon to once again thrive."

Wayne Weber, President of Trout Unlimited Tug Hill/Black River Chapter said, "The Salmon River provides one of the most diverse angling opportunities in our region. Currently Atlantic salmon are a small portion of that opportunity. We are hoping the pen rearing project will provide greater returns to Salmon River therefore increasing the angler's chance of success."

Each project will compare two lots of Atlantic salmon smolts to evaluate the effectiveness of pen-rearing as a stocking method. One lot of Atlantic salmon will be stocked into net pens and held for approximately three weeks prior to release. A second lot will be directly stocked into the water at the same site when the smolts are released from the pens. A comparison of returns between the two stocking methods will determine if pen-rearing results in greater survival and homing than conventional, direct stocking.

For more information about salmon in New York State, visit DEC's Salmon and Atlantic salmon websites.

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