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GLIN==> Study Shows Natural Chinook in the Millions in NY ’s Salmon River



Study Shows Natural Chinook in the Millions in NY’s Salmon River

PRESS RELEASE: August 23, 2006

Contacts:

   - David MacNeill, New York Sea Grant, 315-312-3042
   - Neil Ringler, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry,
   315-470-6609
   - Dan Bishop, New York State Dept of Environmental Conservation,
   607-753-3095
   - Jim Johnson, US Geological Survey, 607-753-9391
   - Steve LaPan, New York State Dept of Environmental Conservation Cape
   Vincent Fish Hatchery, 315-654-2147
   - Fran Verdoliva, Salmon River Program, 315-298-7605

Fisheries managers are excited but cautious about the finding that five to
ten million Chinook salmon were naturally reproduced in the Salmon River in
2005. A five million- fish finding comes from a New York Sea Grant-funded
project carried out by State University of New York College of
Environmental Sciences and Forestry (SUNY ESF) graduate student Dustin
Everitt. In fact, SUNY ESF Dean of Research Dr. Neil H. Ringler says, “The
calculations are actually quite conservative, and the number of juvenile
Chinook for 2005 could easily have been close to ten million fish.” Everitt
worked under the guidance of Ringler, assisted by Michael Connerton, and
with hydroacoustic analysis expertise from Cornell University’s Dr. Lars
Rudstam.

New York Sea Grant Fisheries Specialist David B. MacNeill says the finding
comes after a litany of meaningful research conducted on the Salmon River
by SUNY ESF, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
(NYSDEC), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and New York Sea Grant since
the late 1970s.

“The good news now is that the Salmon River obviously has good habitat for
natural spawning, but this number of naturally-produced salmon may create
additional pressure on prey fish populations. More research is needed to
better understand how many of the wild fish are surviving to ‘fishable’
size,” MacNeill says.

The NYSDEC and USGS began conducting an annual seining (netting) fish index
count on the Salmon River in 1999. NYSDEC Regional Fisheries Manager Daniel
Bishop says the potential for the Salmon River to naturally produce Chinook
salmon began to improve in 1997.

“We have seen naturally-spawned Chinook in the Salmon River since the late
1990s, when a stable year-round water flow on the River was instituted by
the power companies. Before that the flow would be shut off at night and
leave the River ‘high and dry’,” Bishop says.

Ringler says, “Because of the stabilized flows in the Salmon River, the
magnitude of reproduction is far higher today than during our initial
studies (30 years ago). The recognition that wild fish matter will greatly
enhance future management decisions in Great Lakes fisheries.”

“Using a seining technique at four stations in recent years, we could say
that there were a lot of wild fish in the River,” says James Johnson, a
USGS fisheries researcher, “but we needed the more detailed assessment that
Dr. Ringler and Dustin Everitt undertook to actually quantify the number.”

Bishop notes that all five million of the naturally-spawned fish will not
make it out of the River that is the largest cold water tributary to Lake
Ontario. Still, he says, “These natural Chinook have the potential to have
an extremely significant impact on the numbers of adult stock in Lake
Ontario and on the long-term sustainability of the lake and river fishery.
Their survival could depend upon an historical low level of the prey fish,
alewife.”

The researchers all say the next step is to collect adult Chinook from Lake
Ontario, the Salmon River and the Hatchery to assess their survival rate.
Johnson notes that the wild fish can be as much as one-third smaller than
the stocked fish entering the Lake.

At Cape Vincent, NYSDEC Lake Ontario Unit Leader Steve LaPan says the
NYSDEC and SUNY ESF are now cooperating on another Sea Grant project using
microanalysis of fish scales to distinguish the wild Chinook from stocked
salmon in Lake Ontario, a technique also being assessed by Canadian
fisheries managers.

“This technique analyzes the rings on fish scales to assess differences in
growth at early life stages, similar to counting the rings of a tree trunk.
Wild versus hatchery-raised fish are thought to grow differently so we are
evaluating this technique as a way to count the two populations,” LaPan
explains. He cautions, however, “One year’s data will not provide a
definitive snapshot. Survival rates vary year to year. Counts could be ten
percent one year and eighty-five percent the next depending on many factors
in the fishery.”

Johnson, who, as Dr. Ringler’s first student, discovered Pacific salmon in
the Salmon River’s tributaries, says, “Fisheries managers in Michigan
conducted a marked fish survey and were shocked at the high survival rate
of wild salmon in their fisheries. The five million count of young natural
Chinook in the Salmon River has our attention in New York so that we are
now ready to look at marking hatchery-raised fish so we can scientifically
calculate a relative survival rate of the wild salmon compared with the
stocked salmon. We will probably need at least two years’ worth of
comparison counts before we can get excited here.”

The NYSDEC Salmon River Fish Hatchery at Altmar and Caledonia Fish Hatchery
produces 1.8 million Chinook salmon each year from eggs collected from wild
broodstock that return to the Salmon River to spawn. The young fish are
hand fed, monitored daily for health problems, and later released into Lake
Ontario.

Salmon River Program Coordinator Fran Verdoliva says Chinook salmon are
unique in that they do not require two years of residence in the River
before they grow large enough to enter the Lake.

“The Chinook spawn in October and the fry are ready to go to the lake in
June or July. With the regulated water flow, the River is now more
functional for spawning and for juvenile fish survival. The question is how
many of the wild fish will survive in the lake and return here to spawn
their own young,” Verdoliva says.

Another of Dr. Ringler’s SUNY ESF students, Mary Penney, is finishing her
master’s thesis on the Salmon River’s critical habitat factors for wild
salmon survival. Penney, the Stewards Program Coordinator with New York Sea
Grant, says analysis is underway on such factors as water depth,
temperature, velocity, and river bottom substrate.

“This research adds to the work that Dr. Ringler and his students have
conducted for many years by providing the first study and the baseline data
on the water conditions that wild salmon need to survive,” Penney says.

“The information from both studies coupled with past and current research
provides sportfishery stakeholders with valuable information in support of
a pastime and a livelihood that has a positive impact on New York’s
freshwater shoreline economy,” MacNeill says.

The 2001 New York Sea Grant report on “The Economic Contributions of the
Sport Fishing, Commercial Fishing, and Seafood Industries to New York State
measures the value of freshwater recreational fishing at $2.3 billion and
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