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More salmon will soon be swimming.

Salmon numbers could be on the rise in the Lower Niagara River and Western New York waters of Lake Ontario in the next year or two. The Niagara River Anglers Association has just received approval from the Department of Environmental Conservation Region 9 Bureau of Fisheries to begin a cooperative pen rearing project in the Lower Niagara River this spring, reports NRAA president Doug Stein.

"Now that the project has been approved, we can start this year with about 75,000 Chinook salmon and expand the program in future years," Stein said. The four holding pens each measure 20- by 6-feet, with two 10-foot cover panels over 5-foot depths.

The pens will be installed at Williams Marina in Youngstown, where water conditions are ideal for imprinting the young salmon to the waterway in which they will be stocked. The DEC will provide the technical support in building the pens and selecting the food needed during the four weeks fish are held in three pens. The fourth pen will be maintained as a backup. The Williams Marina site provides easy access for DEC personnel to monitor the fish.

These young salmon will be fin clipped, probably at the Caledonia Hatchery the first year, before they are penned and later stocked. Fin clippings are needed so these fish can be identified as ones released from this NRAA project site. This clipping program will continue for four years to determine if the project produces a suitable number of fish into the area's fishery.

Stein says that after 1999, NRAA plans to continue rearing and stocking 75,000 salmon, or possibly 100,000 salmon with DEC approval, but they are also looking at Skamania steelhead trout and walleye. For about 15 years, NRAA has built and maintained walleye ponds with stock provided from the DEC hatchery at Constantia on Oneida Lake. In 2000, NRAA plans to build additional pens and place up to 15,000 young walleye and 15,000 Skamania in separate pens sometime after the salmon have been imprinted and released.

Along with Williams Marina and the DEC, this project receives support from Niagara County Fisheries Advisory Board, Niagara County Derby Board, Niagara County Charter Fishing Association, Niagara River Guides Association, Niagara County Federations of Conservation Clubs, 3F Conservation Club, Niagara River Fishing Station and NYS Sea Grant Extension, Stein said.

Lake Ontario salmon and trout are stocked at DEC-approved sites in feeder streams throughout New York State each spring and fall. Young-of-the-year fish enter the waters and immediately face the rigors of current and other water conditions, along with predation from larger fish, double-crested cormorants and other fish-eating birds. Pen-imprinted fish have about a month in which to adjust to these conditions and stand a better chance of survival when released into the waterway.

Much depends on the outcome of this year's project. NRAA members will provide the manpower needed to complete the stocking. To find out more about volunteering or contributing to its success, write: Doug Stein, NRAA Project, 1877 Huth Road, Grand Island, N.Y., 14072 or call 774-0077

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