Last week’s decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to halt its long-running and unsuccessful bid to restore wild salmon to the Connecticut River has left state salmon-stocking programs in limbo for now.
“We’re still working on that,” Steve Gephard, supervising fisheries biologist for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), says of this state’s (temporarily) on-going salmon program.
The half-century-old federal effort to bring salmon back to New England’s biggest tidal river was declared over by officials who said the multi-million-dollar program just wasn’t producing enough results to justify the cost.
Federal experts estimated that just one adult salmon was returning to the Connecticut River and its tributaries for every 66,000 baby salmon fry released into the river system.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was spending up to $2 million a year to raise and release salmon fry and larger salmon smolts in the stocking program. Something like 100 million of the fish have been released since the program began in the 1960s, but this spring saw barely 50 adult fish swim back from the North Atlantic to spawn. So the feds pulled the plug.
Gephard says fishery officials in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire (the states along the Connecticut River) are just now starting to review the issue of what they should do with their salmon stocking efforts.
Representatives of the four states make up the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, which has asked its technical staff from the states to “find out what resources are available… and what makes sense” in light of the federal action, Gephard says.
Gephard, who is on the commission’s technical committee, says the idea is to find out if there is any reason to continue with a state-funded “scaled-back version” of the program now that the feds have stopped.
Connecticut spends about $33,000 a year in state money on its salmon-raising and stocking, using another $98,000 annually in federal grants to pay the rest of the costs of the program.
Massachusetts is spending about the same while Vermont and New Hampshire’s costs are somewhat smaller, according to state officials.
Gephard says the tech guys are expected to report back to the commission in October, when a decision on the state efforts is expected.