Salmon Update /Pen Rearing Program @ Point Breeze: NY

Article Posted: April 17, 1999

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Salmon Update /Pen Rearing Program @ Point Breeze

by Captain Chris Efing

Last year at this time I wrote an article about the pen rearing project that the Oak Orchard Business Association was undertaking with the support of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. One year later I'm happy to report that we have successfully completed the first leg of a three year plan.
Our 5,000 steelhead arrived on April 20, 1998, in good shape and were transferred to a holding pen. On April 24, 1998, 50,000 Chinook were delivered to their temporary residence in their pens on the Oak Orchard River. Within 24 hours of their arrival both species were feeding aggressively. A feeding schedule was set up but as the little guys got bigger they needed to be fed larger portions and more often. Just before they were released, they were being fed 5 times a day. It kind of reminded me of my kids as they were growing up.

We released the steelhead on May 10, 1998. They were held in our pen for 21 days and grew from 4 inches in length on arrival to about 6 inches when they were released. Mortality on the steelhead was 0.6%, we only lost 30 fish total. Our target date for releasing the Chinook was May 17, 1998, but by May 10th we noticed that the fish had reached their smolting stage and were about ready for release. Our friends in the Conservation Department confirmed that the salmon were ready and due to a fairly rapid warming of the river water due to our beautiful spring weather, we released the Chinooks on May 14, 1998. River temperatures at release was 62 degrees. Salmon and trout can't stand water much over 65 degrees and we were within a couple of degrees of that at release.

The little guys wasted no time getting clear when we dropped the nets on the pens to let them go. The Chinooks had grown from 2 inch smolts to about 3 inches during the 21 days that they were in captivity. Of the 50,000 salmon we took possession of, 99% were released. Pen mortality was less than 1%. Average losses during this period were 3 - 4 smolts per day per pen. Upon release, we found some dead smolts that had sunk to the bottom of the pens. Between the fish we found floating in the pens and the ones who had died and sunk to the bottom, we lost less than 300 smolts. That's a very acceptable number.

Later on in the summer a few of our newly stocked Chinook were caught and they were in excellent condition. Between May and August these fish had grown to well over a pound and were eagerly eating whatever came their way. If all goes well we should see those fish return and significantly add to the spawning run three years from now. We don't really know if these fish were from the pens or some of the 120,000 that were stocked in the normal manner, that is released directly into the river from the hatchery. We didn't have the resources or the time to fin clip as we had hoped to. This years salmon being pen reared will be wire tag coded. I think we should be very clear on one thing, the fish being pen reared are not bonus fish .

The Oak Orchard River is normally allocated approximately 160,000 Chinook Salmon and 25,000 steelhead trout. The fish we are pen rearing are a part of this allocation. Therefore it is imperative that the program is successful or our number of fish returning will be seriously jeopardized. This year we will be raising 75,000 salmon and 10,000 steelhead for release in late May. Two new holding pens were built and the material has been purchased for the last two pens to be built. The cost of this project has been entirely supported through private donations except for the fish themselves and the food to maintain them. These were given to us from the state of New York The joint efforts of a group of private citizens and a state agency working hand in hand has accomplished something that will benefit both sportsmen and businessmen in the Orleans County area. This program will have far reaching effect across the South shore of Lake Ontario and could be used as a model for similar programs in the future. Stay tuned.

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