The club has been involved with restoring Atlantic salmon since 1997. It all started in the spring of 1997 when Ed Crosby believed that Atlantic salmon belonged to Fish Creek and should be brought back to their home waters. The club was formed and bought the initial Atlantic Salmon fry that went into Fish Creek. Later that year Margaret Murphy joined the club as she was doing her field work in preparation for a Ph.D. From 1998 to 2000 the club helped stock the fish obtained by Margaret for her work. She was conducting research as to the growth rate of different species of Atlantic Salmon.
In late 1999 the club decided to obtain its own supply of
Atlantic salmon as Margaret's field work was nearly done. Allen
made contact with the Beaverkill Trout Hatchery in early 2000 who
volunteered to hatch eggs for us. Later in the year we obtained a
surplus stainless steel tank used for photographic development
from Griffis Air Force Base in Rome. We took possession of the
tank in late 2000 after modifications were made. It was installed
at the hatchery on December 16, 2000. Allen made the trays in
which to hold the eggs while they hatched.
By this time we had learned about upstream spawners and downstream spawners. It was agreed that we needed upstream spawners. Species of land locked salmon evolved in different areas of the Northeast. Those fish that had no suitable spawning areas in tributaries flowing into a lake became outlet or downstream spawners. They hatched in the outlet and then moved upstream to a lake to mature. Upstream spawners hatched in streams, matured in a lake down stream and then moved upstream to spawn, exactly the situation we have. A source of Sebago strain was found and we got the necessary permissions from the state agencies to continue.
Success for the club in the beginning was thought to be a population of adult Atlantic salmon trying to jump over the Varick street dam in Oswego. That was the goal. We had been led to believe that Atlantic salmon would transit Oneida lake and would not stay long enough to mature. In early 2000 we heard reports of large salmon being caught in the lower part of Fish Creek. The first one occurring on March 14. Was it a salmon? No one really knew. We had put up posters, identifying Atlantic salmon in various places. Some one called in May, 2000 that he had caught a large Atlantic below Taberg. How did he know? He was an experienced Atlantic salmon fisherman and fished often for them in Maine.
In July 2001 two Atlantic salmon were caught below the Caughenoy dam. One was recovered by the club and was determined to be 3 years old. Were they on the way to Fish Creek or were they on their way to Lake Ontario? No one knew. We had not found out about otolith analysis yet. In August 2002 a 303 mm long Atlantic was netted by the Cornell Field Station at Shackleton Point on Oneida lake. Another was netted in 2003. Were fish maturing in Oneida lake we wondered? The club visited various bait shops around Oneida lake, handing out identification posters and asking to be informed if anybody caught Atlantic salmon in Oneida lake. During the winter of 2003-04 the club got many reports of Atlantic salmon being caught through the ice on Oneida Lake.
Thinking we needed another source of fry the club installed a tank at the Carpenters Brook Hatchery in late 2001. We tried hatching eggs there in 2002 and 2003 without much success. Water quality was thought to be the reason. We removed our tank in 2003 and tried an experimental hatching at Tkachuks in 2004 with mixed results. We thought we knew how to remedy the situation and we tried again in 2005 and it has worked out well.
In the fall of 2005 and early winter of 2006, the club built a hatchery on Tom Tkachuk's property. A spring on the property was tapped to provide the water flow using gravity feed. About 50,000 salmon eggs were hatched in the tanks and released in the Spring of 2006. Later in the year, the hatchery was improved and another 50,000 eggs were hatched and released into the East Branch of Fish Creek.
The hatchery in Ava was a long way from where the active members of the club lived. Because of the difficulty of members traveling to the site during the winter to take care of the fish, the club started looking for other alternatives. Harden furniture was contacted in 2009 to see if they were interested in helping the club. Permission was granted to test the water of the West Branch by placing a tank in the sluice way of the dam near the factory. The club populated the tank with a few hundred eggs. The eggs hatched and the fish grew faster than the fish we were raising in the hatchery in Ava.
Further discussions with Harden management resulted in their decision to build a facility for the club within certain restraints. The land below the dam was in the flood plain and we could not build there. Then the idea occurred that the sluiceway might serve if there was a cover for it. A set of plans were drawn up and agreed to by Harden. and during the fall of 2010 a roof for the sluiceway was built. Harden owned the dam so there was no issue with permits. Of course the club had to accept the possibilities of flood conditions but the hatchery used no electrical power so there was no issue there.
In January 2011 the club moved its equipment into the new site, installed pipes and got water flowing through the tanks. The salmon eggs arrived shortly after and the McConnellsville Hatchery was in business. Club members took turns attending to the fish every day. The hatchery and the fish survived a flood and plans were made to better secure the tanks. At one point we had a problem with a fungal infection. We expected problems but also expected to surmount them and on July 2, the Atlantic salmon fry were stocked in the East Branch of Fish Creek.
Each year since the club has raised Atlantic salmon at the McConnellsville Hatchery. In late 2013 the club got permission to install an incubator in a building owned by Harden. It worked out great and eliminated some of the problems with the hatchery.
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