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Feds Have Pulled the Plug on Restoring Salmon to Connecticut River, But That Hasn't Stopped This State's Salmon Stocking

The feds may have canceled it’s long, costly and unsuccessful Connecticut River salmon restoration program, but this state is still stocking that noble fish in a few local rivers, ponds and lakes for the sake of our salmon-hungry fishermen.

Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection released 100 of those bad boys into Mount Tom Pond, and another 200 into the upper Naugatuck River last week. Plans call for the release of another 300 of the big fish into the Shetucket River very soon, and 800-1,000 Atlantic salmon in various locations in November.

But none of these stocking efforts have anything to do with the failed, 40-year-long campaign to restore salmon to the Connecticut River basin.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pulled the plug on that multi-million-dollar-a-year program in July. Federal experts figured that just one adult salmon was returning to spawn in the Connecticut River for every 66,000 baby salmon fry being released. And millions of fry were being dumped into the river basin’s tributaries every year since the late 1960s. It just wasn’t working.

Peter Aarrestad, director of the DEEP’s inland fisheries division, says the whole point of Connecticut putting salmon into rivers like the Shetucket and the Naugatuck is so Connecticut anglers can catch them. “It’s not unlike our trout stocking program,” he says.

The interesting part of the is that the salmon being dumped into these rivers and ponds were raised to produce eggs for the federally coordinated Connecticut River salmon restoration project—which is no longer in effect.

The problem is that too many Connecticut fishermen got used to being able to catch these 2-6 pound salmon every autumn. “We plan to continue raising broodstock salmon to support this popular fishery,”  says Aarrestad.

Steve Gephard, supervising fisheries biologist for the DEEP, said last summer that the Connecticut salmon hatchery and stocking program has been funded in the past using an annual $98,000 federal grant and $33,000 in state money.

Aarrestad says he’s not aware that federal money is being used specifically for the current salmon stocking program. He says it’s still unclear what Connecticut and other states in the Connecticut River Valley will do in the future about local efforts to bring salmon back to New England’s largest tidal river.

Officials from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire were meeting Tuesday to discuss that very issue, according to Aarrestad.

Without the federal money (estimated at $1.2 million to $2 million a year), any attempt to revive a natural salmon population in the big river is going to be dramatically reduced, and so will the already tiny chance of success.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun