|Photo of a volunteer stocking fry in the Sawmill River. Credit: Draper White
Goal 1. Manage Atlantic Salmon Production to Produce Sea-Run Atlantic Salmon Returns.
When the Restoration Program was initiated in 1967, there were no Atlantic salmon in the Connecticut River. Salmon restoration activities depended on bringing stocks into the system from other rivers. The first eggs were imported from salmon in Canadian rivers and later from salmon in the Penobscot River in Maine. As the numbers of adults returning to the Connecticut River increased, the number of eggs required from outside sources decreased. Maine eggs have not been used since 1995. Currently, the Program is managed so that millions of eggs are produced annually without the need for imported eggs. The Commission must continue to successfully manage the resident Atlantic salmon population (eggs, fry, smolts, adults) as outlined in the following objectives and strategies.
Objective 1.A. Produce 15 million Atlantic salmon eggs annually from the Connecticut River strain of fish to fully support the Restoration and Management Program.
It is necessary to develop a new strain of salmon that is well-adapted to the Connecticut River. The development of this strain can be expedited by introducing progeny from fish that have returned to the river. Importing salmon eggs from other geographic areas can be counterproductive to the development of such a strain, unless it is done in a deliberate manner to infuse the existing Connecticut River strain with specific traits.
Because there is currently no significant natural reproduction of salmon occurring in the Connecticut River watershed, modern fish culture techniques must continue to be employed to support the Connecticut River salmon population. Approximately 15 million eggs must be produced, annually, by fish culture facilities in order to achieve Program goals. A great deal of coordination among cooperators is needed to reach the 15 million egg target. The tasks of rearing fish, producing, and incubating eggs are complicated by the fact that some facilities are particularly suited for only specific types of broodstock. The Commission must ensure that all available facilities are used in a way that provides maximum benefit to the Program.
There are three types of broodstock that provide eggs to the Connecticut River Program: sea-run broodstock (adult salmon that are spawned the same year that they return to the river), kelts (sea runs that are retained and spawned again, after their return year), and domestics (progeny from sea runs that are raised to maturity in hatcheries). Sea runs are the best genetic source for eggs, however, because their numbers are limited, they do not provide enough eggs to meet Program goals. Eggs from kelts carry important genetic identity and are used to supplement sea-run egg production. Domestic broodstock eggs are used to supplement sea-run and kelt egg production. Domestic eggs can be less ideal because artificial selection in the hatcheries can affect their genetic identity. However, the use of only the first generation of sea-run progeny for domestic broodstock production helps to increase the genetic value of domestic eggs.
Producing eggs from any type of Atlantic salmon broodstock has facility limitations. Facility managers must continue to work closely with fish health professionals to manage for fish health in cultural practices. This includes the use of effective preventive and therapeutic drugs and chemicals to combat diseases, when needed. Cooperation with experts regarding fish health will maximize the survival of eggs, fry, and parr.
Another facility limitation in egg production is that the work load can be enormous at critical times of the year (such as spawning time). Effective coordination among Commission member agencies and assistance from volunteers are essential if all of the egg production is to be accomplished. The facilities currently employed in the program are listed in Table 6.
Table 6. State and Federal Facilities Contributing Atlantic Salmon Eggs and Fry to the Connecticut River Program.
||Maintained Egg Source
|Berkshire National Fish Hatchery1 (BNFH)
|Hogback Dam Incubation Facility (HDIF)
|Kensington State Salmon Hatchery (KSSH)
|North Attleboro National Fish Hatchery (NANFH)
|Pittsford National Fish Hatchery (PNFH)
|Richard Cronin National Salmon Station (RCNSS)
|| Sea Run, Kelt, Domestic
|Roger Reed State Fish Hatchery (RRSFH)
|| Fed, Unfed
|Roxbury State Fish Hatchery (RSFH)
|| Fed, Unfed
|Warren State Fish Hatchery (WSFH)
|White River National Fish Hatchery (WRNFH)
|Whittemore Salmon Station (WSS)
|| Sea Run, Kelt
|1 Hatchery placed in caretaker status in 1994.
Objective 1.B. Produce and stock ten million fry annually.
Before 1987, fry releases, a major component of the 1982 Strategic Plan, were limited due to chronic egg shortages. Over time, additional egg production capabilities allowed the Program managers to increase the production and release of salmon fry. In 1987, about 1.2 million fry were released into the watershed. Since then, releases have increased steadily, with close to 8.5 million fry stocked in 1997.
Full implementation of the fry stocking plan requires the stocking of all appropriate habitat in the Connecticut River basin. Determining which habitat is appropriate and how much of it can be stocked is based on criteria such as the availability of habitat inventory information, the production potential of the habitat, and the amount of available fry. Areas are prioritized based on the quantity and quality of rearing habitat, the ability of the appropriate agency to stock the fry, the timing and availability of fry, and the timing of suitable stream conditions. This planning process is hampered by incomplete habitat inventories in certain tributary drainages. Efforts to obtain needed data are ongoing, but are limited by funds and available staff time.
Current estimates indicate that at least ten million fry are needed to stock available habitat at light to moderate densities. In order to stock this many fry, 15 million eggs must be produced then incubated. Whereas the Program has the ability to produce 15 million eggs, it does not have enough facilities to incubate them. More incubation space is necessary if this objective is to be fully realized. The next challenge is physically distributing the 10 million fry into the streams of the basin. The logistical aspect of coordinating fry stocking is very complex, because large numbers of volunteers from local communities are needed. To date, over 500 volunteers per year have successfully stocked fry. As the total annual number of fry approaches ten million, more volunteers in more towns will be needed, requiring even more coordination.
Objective 1.C. Produce and stock a minimum of 100,000 hatchery smolts annually.
Most of the initial effort of the Program was devoted to the production and release of smolts, which provide a quick return of adults to the river. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, smolt production at the White River National Fish Hatchery (WRNFH) reached relatively stable levels and smolt quality improved significantly. In 1992, the WRNFH also initiated a domestic broodstock program designed to meet the egg needs of the expanding fry stocking program. However, potential for high losses to disease during high water events combined with budget constraints has precluded the use of the WRNFH for both smolt production and domestic broodstock production. The Commission placed a higher priority on the domestic broodstock program and, in 1994, the smolt program was eliminated. As a result of the Commission's decision, hatchery smolts have not been stocked since 1994. Adult returns will result exclusively from fry stocking beginning in 1997, until two years after smolt stocking resumes.
The Commission has been actively searching for opportunities to resume smolt production. Smolt releases would provide an important buffer against a potential, natural catastrophic event that might severely affect the fry program. A release of about 100,000 smolts annually would provide sufficient numbers of adult returns to ensure genetic integrity of the next generation of eggs even in the absence of any adult returns from fry-stocked fish. This estimate is based on the assumption that these fish would experience return rates typical of those experienced in the past.
Furthermore, there is an annual need for smolts to be used in research and facility evaluation. It is difficult to capture stream-reared smolts (produced by fry stocking), which means that adequate numbers are often unavailable. The production of 100,000 hatchery-reared smolts will meet most high-priority research needs, in addition to enhancing adult returns.
When smolt production is resumed, it will be important to use smolts to the best advantage of the program. First, great effort must be expended to ensure they are of the highest quality possible. Hatchery workers must coordinate their activities with other experts regarding the physical condition, behavioral conditioning, and the health of the fish. Once produced, the smolts must be marked and released in a manner that will enhance survival and maximize the information that can be gained from the release. The Commission must consider all of these relevant factors and develop a smolt stocking plan when smolt releases are utilized in the future.
Objective 1.D. Maintain and, when possible, enhance existing genetic variability in the Connecticut River Atlantic salmon population.
Thousands of years of natural selection ensure that North American Atlantic salmon stocks are well-adapted to the river systems in which they live. Even if the river ecosystem changes over time, salmon respond very quickly, often adapting to the changes genetically. If even a few of the Connecticut's native salmon survived today, the process of producing a run of thousands of salmon would be much easier as a result of this genetic specificity. However, the Connecticut stock has been extinct for approximately 200 years. Managers must now develop a new Connecticut River stock without the benefit of having thousands of years to do so.
When the Program began in the 1960s, there was no universally accepted procedure for restoring salmon stocks. In fact, early stockings and matings were not well documented, so it is uncertain which imported stocks are represented in the current Connecticut River stock of salmon. Nonetheless, the stocked salmon return to the river. The Program can, therefore, be considered successful; additional stock introductions are now considered to be less desirable. The challenge to the Commission is to preserve the existing stock, improving it if necessary with imported stocks, to ensure that salmon are able to successfully continue their natural adaptation process in the Connecticut River.
When attempting to breed a wild species in captivity, certain deleterious genetic impacts may result, including: inbreeding depression, outbreeding depression, low effective breeding numbers, and genetic bottlenecks. These impacts can result in animal populations which are unfit to survive in the wild. As a result, the Program must work to eliminate activities that have potentially negative genetic impacts. Program biologists have consulted with fish geneticists and designed a breeding and management protocol to guard against these genetic problems. Features include: using all returning adults for breeding, maximizing the number of parents, using only sea-run progeny for domestic broodstock, and maximizing fry stocking. In addition to an effective management protocol, the salmon used in the Restoration Program must possess suitable genetic traits to successfully adapt to the Connecticut River. The Commission should periodically review and monitor the broodstock management protocol and its implementation to ensure that it is achieving its objectives.
The field of conservation biology has expanded enormously within the last decade, particularly advancements in the understanding of genetics and the development of genetic analysis methodologies (such as identification of DNA microsatellites). The intense interest in Atlantic salmon due to the growing aquaculture industry and the possibility of some Maine stocks being listed under the Endangered Species Act have also contributed to the rapidly expanding knowledge of Atlantic salmon genetics. This has begun to benefit the Connecticut River Program and will continue to do so in the future. It is important that the Commission continues to seek the best genetic advice from around the world to guide the development of a new Connecticut River stock of Atlantic salmon.
Goal 2. Enhance and Maintain the Quantity, Quality and Accessibility of Salmon Habitat Necessary to Support Re-Established Spawning Populations.
Dams constructed on the mainstem Connecticut River and its tributaries were largely responsible for the extirpation of salmon in the basin. Dams continue to interfere with both upstream and downstream salmon migration. Human activities, including industrial, residential and agricultural development, have also had a pronounced impact on the quantity and quality of Atlantic salmon habitat throughout the basin. Salmon habitat has been destroyed by inundation behind dams, water diversion, channelization, sedimentation, loss of riparian cover and water pollution.
One of the first fishery management actions undertaken in the Restoration Program was to inventory suitable salmon habitat throughout the basin. This effort has been refined over time to provide a more precise accounting of habitat availability. Because a significant amount of habitat has already been permanently lost, protection of remaining habitat from pollution, flow diversion and other deleterious impacts is critical to the success of the Restoration Program. In addition, opportunities exist to increase available salmon habitat by implementing habitat enhancement or restoration measures. Lack of public awareness of the importance of habitat to salmon restoration is also an obstacle to habitat protection and restoration.
Another important initial step in the Restoration Program was identification of upriver fish passage needs in order to provide returning adults with access to spawning habitat and to facilitate adult capture for hatchery production purposes. When the Restoration Program began, virtually all salmon spawning and rearing habitat was inaccessible to returning adults due to numerous impassable barriers on both the mainstem and tributaries. Barriers with hydroelectric projects also presented obstacles to safe and effective downstream migration of salmon smolts. The utilities have played an important role in the process of re-establishing access up and downstream in the basin and, as such, have a unique relationship to the Program.
Objective 2.A. Protect, maintain and restore existing Atlantic salmon habitat in all 38 tributaries.
Participating Commission agencies have conducted detailed habitat surveys on significant portions of the basin and have conservatively estimated the habitat available in the remainder. These habitat surveys also identify the adverse impacts that effect the quantity and quality of salmon habitat, thereby identifying opportunities for habitat enhancement. The current estimated total of identified Atlantic salmon habitat in the Connecticut River Basin is 243,000 habitat units (Appendix B, Table 2), where one habitat unit equals 100 square meters (119.6 square yards) of habitat. Additional habitat is available in tributaries that are not targeted at this time. The total identified habitat may increase and additional rivers may be added as habitat surveys continue in the future.
Fry stocking evaluations have demonstrated that much of the existing habitat is capable of producing Atlantic salmon smolts. Protecting the critical elements of Atlantic salmon habitat (including water quality) should be pursued through state and federal regulatory programs. Adequate river flows are critical to successful spawning, the incubation of eggs, and the rearing of fry and parr. The Commission opposes manipulation of natural river flows detrimental to fisheries management initiatives. Salmon habitat in the basin must also be protected from: adverse conditions associated with diversion for hydropower generation, excessive flows and fluctuations from hydro peaking and storage releases, water supply withdrawals, snow-making withdrawals, and other consumptive or industrial uses. Protection should be pursued through active participation by Commission member agencies in state and federal regulatory processes.
In establishing standard minimum flows, the Commission supports the USFWS guidelines in the "Interim Flow Regional Policy for New England Streamflow Recommendations". This policy establishes flow setting techniques based on drainage area for determining necessary minimum flows for the spring and summer, and for fall and winter spawning and incubation periods. As an alternative, the Commission also supports site specific habitat assessment methods such as the Instream Flow Incremental Methodology. This or other methods should be used to assess habitat impacts of excessively high or low flows and flow fluctuations. The Commission and member agencies should use the output from these assessment methods to develop recommendations that protect and enhance existing habitat where possible.
Over the past 200 years, land management activities, dam construction, and extensive development throughout the Connecticut River basin have left salmon habitat altered or degraded. Efforts to restore and improve the habitat and develop management strategies for protecting riparian area buffer strips should be implemented by Commission member agencies. These efforts should be both encouraged and supported, utilizing the participation of individuals and organizations within the watershed. Evaluation of some of this work is underway and will continue as habitat improvement activities expand. This effort has the potential to enhance stream sections degraded by past activities and increase the production of stream-reared parr and smolts. In addition, the public must be provided with information to help them understand the importance of habitat and to encourage them to act to protect that habitat. Beyond this work, watershed-based management is an important tool to better manage Atlantic salmon and other fish species within the entire Connecticut River basin.
Objective 2.B. Provide adult Atlantic salmon with access to selected upstream spawning habitat in the Connecticut River and 13 identified tributaries.
Many dams throughout the watershed have made historically available habitat inaccessible. It is anticipated that once upstream fish passage is provided at all appropriate sites, approximately 75 percent of the total available habitat will be accessible to spawning adults. The remainder of the available rearing habitat will only produce smolts when stocked with fry.
Areas where a substantial portion of the tributary is targeted for spawning include:
Ammonoosuc River and tributaries
Connecticut River mainstem
(between Gilman Dam and Canaan Dam)
Deerfield River and tributaries
Eightmile River and tributaries
Farmington River and tributaries
Johns River and tributaries
Millers River and tributaries
Nulhegan River and tributaries
Passumpsic River and tributaries
Paul Stream and tributaries
Salmon River and tributaries
West River and tributaries
Westfield River and tributaries
White River and tributaries
Natural spawning is also anticipated in several smaller tributaries and below the first barrier on some larger tributaries.
A substantial portion of spawning or nursery habitat exists upstream from barriers where fish passage or plans are currently lacking. To fully utilize those areas, Commission member agencies must address fish passage concerns using state and federal regulatory authorities at all licensed and permitted dams. Other measures may also be utilized to improve fish passage success such as the manipulation of river flows at dams during key migration periods. The successful resolution of passage issues also requires the transfer of information and the cooperation of dam owners and other river developers.
The first dam on the Connecticut River encountered by returning sea-run adults is the Enfield Dam. This low-head dam is currently passable by salmon and other anadromous species due to breaches that have developed in recent years. The Commission opposes any reconstruction, or raising, of this dam that may modify the current zone of passage. The breaches at Enfield Dam and completion of upstream passage facilities at the next five dams (Holyoke, Turners Falls, Vernon, Bellows Falls, Ryegate and Wilder) now allow salmon to access spawning habitat in portions of the White and West Rivers, as well as lower reaches of other tributaries. Upstream from Wilder, a trap and truck approach is foreseen as an interim measure to allow for the transport of pre-spawning adults to upstream habitat above the next four mainstem dams (McIndoes, Moore, Comerford, and Gilman). Possible alternatives to this approach include standard fish passage facilities at Ryegate and McIndoes and a trap and truck facility at Comerford Dam. Actual needs will be established subsequent to field investigations.
Major Connecticut River tributaries also have fish passage needs. Passage and trapping facilities at Rainbow Dam on the Farmington River, Leesville Dam on the Salmon River and the DSI Dam on the Westfield River and a trap and truck facility at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Townshend Dam on the West River are currently in place. Trapping facilities at the Number 2 Station dam on the Deerfield River are expected as part of relicensing proceedings of the Deerfield River Hydroelectric Project. These facilities will provide for passage, or the capture and transport of adults to upstream spawning habitat or to hatcheries.
Upstream passage at dams on tributaries targeted for natural reproduction will be needed when sufficient numbers of salmon have access to these dams. The Commission supports the implementation of upstream passage measures at White River tributary dams following the passage of 50 or more adults at the Bellows Falls fish ladder for two successive years or earlier, if the adults are observed below specific dams. Passage facilities at Ryegate and dams on the Ammonoosuc River will be needed after the passage of 20 or more adults at the Wilder Project for two successive years. Upstream passage or trapping facilities in other tributaries with obstructing dams are not currently scheduled, but will be sought by the Commission when needed based on evaluation of spawning habitat and the status of the restoration. Current upstream fish passage needs for mainstem and tributary dams are presented in Appendix G.
In addition to denying uprunning adult salmon access to spawning habitat, dams, even when fitted with upstream passage facilities, create delays to upstream and downstream migration and contribute to incremental losses of adults (and juveniles). Construction of additional dams or reconstruction of breached dams would be detrimental to the Restoration Program and is opposed by the Commission. The Commission supports reasonable efforts to breach or remove dams that obstruct or impede passage if it is determined that this would provide benefits to the Program.
Objective 2.C. Minimize obstructions to passage, migratory delays and mortality of Atlantic salmon smolts and kelts downstream of areas stocked with fry, parr, smolts or adults.
Safe and effective downstream fish passage is critical to the success of the Restoration Program and at times is limited by existing technology. Mortality, injury, and/or delay to migration of Atlantic salmon smolts associated with hydroelectric projects and non-hydro dams are significant areas of concern to the Restoration Program. Mortality and injury present obvious impacts. Delay is also a concern since the temporal window for safe and effective downstream migration is limited. Smolts that are delayed may: 1) lose the ability to survive the transitional phase to salt water; 2) stop migrating; 3) be subject to passage under lower late-spring flow conditions without necessary spill at hydro dams; 4) be exposed to increased river or estuarine temperatures; or, 5) be exposed to increased risk from predators.
Therefore, passage needs to be provided and evaluated at all projects that have potential to delay or kill smolts or kelts and that lie downstream of areas that are stocked with fry, parr, or adults. Improvements to current passage technology should be encouraged and supported. The expansion of fry stocking to more tributaries and river reaches has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of projects that need passage facilities. Downstream fish passage status and needs for mainstem and tributary dams are presented in Appendix G.
The Commission and its member agencies have been pursuing downstream passage at hydro and flood control projects throughout the basin. Downstream passage measures are now in place at the Holyoke, Turners Falls, Bellows Falls, Vernon, Wilder and Ryegate Dams. The facilities installed at Wilder and Bellows Falls have been proven effective and the others are being evaluated and modified, as needed. Facilities are also in place at Ryegate. An annual notification letter is issued by the Commission to the utility companies each spring to specify the timing of downstream fish passage operations required at each project for Atlantic salmon, American shad, and river herring. In addition, special studies have been undertaken at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project to investigate the impacts of the project on salmon smolts and to develop techniques to prevent smolt entrainment, a concern that remains to be resolved.
Efforts to implement downstream passage measures at tributary projects have also been ongoing by Commission member agencies. In 1988, 13 hydro projects in the basin needed downstream passage facilities to protect emigrating salmon smolts. As of 1997, 46 hydro projects need passage facilities. When all rearing habitat is stocked, additional hydro projects will require downstream passage facilities. Downstream passage needs and current status are presented in Appendix G.
As of 1997, final, permanent facilities have been installed at 11 tributary projects. Most others have implemented interim or experimental measures pending further studies and/or construction of permanent facilities. Some still have no facilities in place. Efforts to implement passage through state and federal regulatory processes must, therefore, continue until all fish passage concerns are resolved.
The success and rate of downstream passage is affected by river flow conditions during the migration season. Since the Connecticut River basin is highly regulated by government owned flood control structures and seasonal storage at hydroelectric dams, the implications of seasonal and daily flow regulation from hydropower generation and flood control should be investigated. Providing more natural river flows could increase passage success and decrease emigration time. Manipulating river flows during key migration periods also has the potential to improve passage success. Although not yet pursued, these issues should be investigated further in coordination with dam operators.
Goal 3. Protect Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon from Exploitation.
In 1987, the United States New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) formalized domestic protection measures for U.S. salmon stocks through the preparation of a Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The FMP prohibits the possession of Atlantic salmon in waters contiguous to the U.S. Coastal Zone (within 12 miles). Yet, because of their migratory nature, U.S. salmon stocks have continued to be the target of commercial exploitation through foreign intercept fisheries in international waters. The exploitation of U.S. Atlantic salmon stocks continues to occur in oceanic waters because of their highly migratory nature.
Objective 3.A. Support the scientific management of sea-run Atlantic salmon populations.
Resource managers remain concerned with the level of fishing mortality suffered by U.S. salmon stocks in both directed and inadvertent foreign fisheries. Until recently, the largest commercial Atlantic salmon fisheries existed in the near-shore waters of West Greenland and Newfoundland/Labrador, Canada. The exploitation of combined U.S. stocks of salmon in this fishery was estimated at a minimum of 35% to 50%, which equated to the capture of approximately one fish for every one returning to its natal stream. Additionally, characterization of the harvested migrants revealed that the largest proportion of these fish were 1SW, destined to return to home waters the next year as 2SW salmon.
The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and the North Atlantic Salmon Working Group assessed the marine exploitation rates of tagged salmon of Maine origin taken in the West Greenland and Newfoundland Fishery. Using the abundance of the Maine component of captured Atlantic salmon, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service developed a theoretical relationship (including natural mortality) for the ratio of returning Maine salmon verses Connecticut, Merrimack and Pawcatuck River returns. Projected returns averaged 2.5 times the observed rate of return for these river systems. Consequently, it was estimated that in the absence of the West Greenland and Labrador fisheries, returns of spawners to U.S. rivers could potentially increase 2.5 fold.
Continued exploitation from commercial harvest will inhibit management efforts to achieve required levels of spawning escapement for restoration of discrete river stocks.
Fortunately, in 1993, the Canadian government agreed to regulatory measures that implemented a five-year closure of the Newfoundland fishery and a license buy-out in both Newfoundland and Labrador. Although commercial salmon fishing still continues in Labrador, the existing catch quota has been reduced in proportion to the number of fishermen accepting the buy-out. As part of this agreement, scientifically-based quotas developed by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO), combined with buy-outs of the quota in some years by private salmon conservation groups, have resulted in a dramatic reduction in the salmon catch in Greenland.
Despite the curtailment of these intercept fisheries, sea-run returns to the Connecticut River have not increased dramatically, as expected. The cause of lower than expected returns is unknown, but several potential contributing factors have been identified. Suggested factors are the capture in non-directed fisheries (by-catch), resumption of limited commercial harvest, the continuation of subsistence fishing, and unfavorable ocean climate conditions that have reduced post-smolt survival and caused changes in maturation rates among U.S. salmon stocks. It is possible that the reduction in commercial exploitation, simultaneous with low marine survival, prevented even lower returns than those actually observed.
Consequently, it is of particular importance that monitoring of remaining harvests (direct and indirect) in Newfoundland/Labrador and West Greenland continue so that we may estimate the rate of exploitation to Connecticut River salmon. This data will provide the U.S. Commissioners of NASCO with information that is necessary to negotiate future marine harvest quotas to achieve desired levels of spawning escapement for restoration purposes.
There is some evidence that Connecticut River salmon are incidentally caught and kept in U.S. coastal waters. This harvest is illegal and should remain so. Monitoring of this incidental by-catch should continue. Some Atlantic salmon are incidentally caught and released in the commercial American shad fishery in the State of Connecticut. By-catch monitoring of incidental catch in this fishery is not conducted scientifically but the catch is known to be limited. The Commission has reviewed the impact of the shad fishery on returning salmon and concluded that it is not a great threat. The effort in this fishery is declining, catch of salmon is believed to be low and fishermen are required to release any salmon caught. Monitoring of the shad fishery should continue, to ensure that the by-catch remains low and that all salmon are released. The Commission does not object to the traditional Connecticut River shad fishery but does oppose any management changes to the fishery which could increase by-catch of salmon.
The Commission supports efforts to make Atlantic salmon a non-commercial species with allowances for recreational fishing, when practical. The Commission will also continue to provide representatives to the U.S. Atlantic Salmon Assessment Committee to ensure that Connecticut River salmon data will be available to the international community for guiding marine harvest management.
Goal 4. Allocate Adult Atlantic Salmon to Maximize Benefits to the Program.
Program managers must decide how to best use adult Atlantic salmon to support the various needs of the Restoration Program. Adult Atlantic salmon, annually available to the Program, include sea-run returns, domestic broodstock, and reconditioned kelts. These fish will be allocated to provide: eggs for the Program, in-river spawning escapement, recreational fishing, and specimens for research. Adults will also be used to increase public awareness and understanding of the Restoration Program. Returning numbers of salmon are not great enough to fully meet all of these needs at the present time, so managers will prioritize fish allocations based on the strategies set forth in this Plan.
Objective 4.A. Allocate adult sea-run salmon to provide eggs for the Program.
At present return levels, most returning sea-run adults are captured for egg production needs, and the rest are released to allow for natural spawning (spawning escapement). As the run size increases, the percent of the run taken for hatchery broodstock purposes will decrease. It is important to have a plan to capture enough broodstock to meet existing hatchery production goals while allowing for natural spawning during the course of the run. The strategies outlined under this objective allow releases to be determined as the run develops so that releases may be increased or decreased as the run occurs, based on the predicted runs size.
Objective 4.B. Allocate adult sea-run salmon for a spawning escapement into the habitat to allow for natural reproduction.
Releasing returning sea-run adults into the wild, for natural spawning purposes, has both costs and benefits. Wild spawning is a primary restoration objective, however, capturing fewer adults for egg production will reduce the production of juveniles from sea-run parents. Presently, ten percent of the adult salmon reaching the Holyoke fishlift are released upstream for this purpose. The rest of the Holyoke sea runs and all other sea-run salmon returning to the fishways on the Salmon, Farmington, and Westfield Rivers are captured for broodstock purposes. As the run size increases, the number of returning adults released to spawn naturally will also increase, based on the schedule outlined in Objective 4.A, or when it is determined that the release of additional fish at a specific location for natural spawning will benefit the Program.
Objective 4.C. Allocate adult Atlantic salmon for research purposes.
It is sometimes necessary to provide adult salmon for research that directly benefits the Restoration Program. This objective outlines strategies regarding the allocation of adult salmon for research purposes.
Objective 4.D. Allocate adult sea-run salmon to support recreational opportunities for the public.
It is important to develop a variety of public recreational opportunities as part of the Restoration Program. Opportunities need to be created to allow the public to view salmon in the wild and in captivity. Existing salmon fisheries, by-products of the Restoration Program, also provide for public recreation. When the sea-run population has reached target levels, sea-run recreational fisheries will also be created. Program managers need to respond to local conditions when managing these fisheries so that they do not adversely affect the overall restoration effort.
Objective 4.E. Allocate post-spawned adult sea-run salmon to the kelt reconditioning program for the provision of eggs to the Program.
Unlike their Pacific counterparts, Atlantic salmon do not always die after spawning. Hatchery managers have developed techniques to recondition sea-run salmon, allowing managers to spawn captive fish for a number of years after their return. A portion of the sea-run salmon will be retained each year for the kelt reconditioning program to produce eggs in following years. This will reduce the number of sea-run fish which must be collected each year to meet hatchery needs.
Objective 4. F. Allocate captive/domestic salmon for the provision of eggs to the Program.
Currently, sea-run salmon and kelts do not provide enough eggs for the Program. Therefore, a domestic salmon production program has been developed to provide more eggs. This program will be continued into the future to meet projected egg needs. However, the domestic program will be the first eggs source program to be reduced or eliminated as sea-run returns increase in number.
Objective 4.G. Permit additional uses of kelt and captive/domestic broodstock once the fish have fulfilled their original purposes.
The Commission has established an hierarchy of priority uses for salmon broodstock and it will also establish criteria for uses within these priorities. The priorities are: highest priority will be given to uses that meet the direct needs of the Restoration Program within the basin; second highest priority will be given to uses that assist the cooperating agencies with restoration efforts in other basins within the four basin states; third priority will be given to uses that accomplish other fishery goals held by the cooperating agencies which are directly linked to and benefit the Connecticut River Restoration Program; lowest priority will be given to uses by other restoration programs that are not directly linked or do not benefit the Restoration Program. The Commission will establish criteria that define what constitutes a benefit to the Program and will hold cooperators responsible for demonstrating that those benefits are realized through periodic reviews.
Goal 5. Assess Effectiveness of Program by Conducting Monitoring, Evaluation and Research and Implement Changes When Appropriate.
The strategies utilized in the Restoration Program must be evaluated to determine if they are effective steps in bringing salmon back to the Connecticut River. Assessments and evaluations must be undertaken to address both short-term and long-term issues facing the Program. These activities will include research and monitoring projects by cooperators, other agencies, universities, private companies, and non-governmental organizations.
Objective 5.A. Conduct monitoring, evaluation, and research to improve effectiveness of the Program.
As the Program has expanded, the need for monitoring, evaluation, and research to improve Program effectiveness in various areas has increased in importance. Protection and restoration of habitat necessitates habitat assessment. Population dynamics and smolt survival data are critical to sound decision making in fisheries management. Genetics information and fish health monitoring are both important in broodstock management and hatchery production. Evaluation in these and other areas is time consuming and sometimes costly, but also key to improving returns and other Program successes.
Monitoring of sea-run returns is conducted primarily at fish passage facilities on both the mainstem and lower basin tributaries. Salmon are enumerated and most are captured at traps on four fishways: Holyoke Dam on the Connecticut River, Leesville Dam on the Salmon River, Rainbow Dam on the Farmington River, and DSI/West Springfield Dam on the Westfield River. The majority of these fish are transported to hatcheries for artificial spawning in the fall. All captured fish are measured for length and weighed, and scale samples are taken to determine age, growth and origin information. The majority of adult returns to the Connecticut River consist of two sea winter fish, with an occasional one or three sea winter fish. Runs in past years were primarily adults released as hatchery produced smolts. Over time, an increasing percentage of returning adults were of fry stocked origin. Ninety-nine percent of the 1997 run was of fry origin. Since the smolt program was curtailed, no future smolt-origin returns are expected until two years after smolt stocking resumes.
Once fish passage facilities are constructed, it is necessary to monitor their effectiveness to assure they function as designed. The monitoring may include two components: a formal evaluation upon project completion, and continued monitoring to assess passage efficiency under varied river and operating conditions. Upstream passage is already in place at five mainstem dams and four tributary dams. Currently, eight mainstem hydroelectric projects have completed or are in the process of taking measures to provide safe downstream passage. In addition, many smaller hydroelectric projects on tributaries have also constructed downstream fish passage facilities and utilized modifications or have provided operational changes to facilitate downstream passage.
Studies have shown that competition is minimal between existing fisheries (trout) and stocked salmon. Though additional research may be warranted, it is important to note that native species in the basin have been greatly altered by human activities. The only two original salmonid species are Atlantic salmon and brook trout. All other salmonids have been introduced and are not native to the Connecticut River.
Juvenile instream, production is annually monitored by fall sampling of juvenile salmon by electrofishing at established index sites basin-wide. Index site data provides information on year-class survival, growth, and pre-smolt production. This work enables managers to adjust fry stocking densities to optimize smolt production. It also helps provide an indication of the number of smolts produced in the streams. Combining index site data with habitat assessment and monitoring information helps managers adjust fry stocking strategies.
Past evaluation of the hatchery smolt stocking program consisted primarily of assessing physical and fish health parameters at hatcheries. Additionally, adult return rates have been monitored. These assessments are important. They have shown that hatchery smolts shorter than about seven inches in length return at a much lower rate than longer fish. Eroded fins and disease are also known to reduce return rates. In recent years there has been an increase in physiological studies of hatchery smolts to determine if fish physiology can be manipulated to improve smolt survival rates. When hatchery smolt production is resumed, a priority action, these evaluation and monitoring activities will likewise be resumed.
Evaluation of the performance of salmon during their growth and development in both freshwater and marine environments is vital to the effective management of the Restoration Program. Most hatchery smolts stocked from 1982 to 1994 were marked with coded-wire tags (CWTs). This tagging allowed monitoring of the interception of Connecticut River origin salmon in the high seas fisheries (see Objective 3.A.). In addition, CWT data provided information on release location, time of release, and other variables that enabled evaluation of the smolt stocking program. Future smolt releases should be evaluated similarly through the use of CWTs or other available marks.
Because fry are too small for CWTs and other conventional marking methods, the shift in Program emphasis from smolt to fry releases requires new evaluation techniques. Evaluation techniques are needed that allow managers to distinguish tributary of origin for both fry-stocked smolts and fry-stocked returning adult salmon.
Comprehensive estimates of the extent and timing of the annual smolt emigration should be completed each year to provide managers with information on timing of migration, basin-wide smolt production estimates for calculating return rates, stocking effectiveness, and tributary production. The recent completion and use of fish sampling stations at mainstem and tributary fish passage facilities also provide critical data that had been lacking until the 1990s.
The factors that affect the survival of salmon during the post-smolt/early marine stage are not yet well understood. Researchers have deduced that this life stage is critical for determining future adult returns of U.S. stocks. Potential factors affecting survival include predation, migration timing, and environmental conditions. It is important to identify the sources of mortality so that concerns can be appropriately addressed whenever possible.
Recent research has shown statistical correlations between U.S. adult returns and ocean temperatures. Reduced ocean temperatures in the feeding grounds off Greenland seem to result in diminished adult returns to U.S. coastal waters. More information needs to be gathered and analyzed to further refine and identify parameters that influence marine survival of salmon stocks in order to more fully understand fluctuating return rates.
Objective 5.B. Identify information gaps, problems and management issues.
The Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program is the first of its kind in the world, owing to the watershed's unique characteristics and size. Many restoration methodologies have been developed and/or improved through research as the Program evolved in disciplines including fish culture and fish passage.
Nutritional requirements of Atlantic salmon, for example, were unknown early in the Program's history. Managers and researchers worked together to develop diets that resolved identified deficiencies. Fish passage and fish health management have also been the focus of considerable effort, leading to improved habitat accessibility and the ability to manage captive life stages. Nevertheless, many aspects of Atlantic salmon life history and management still remain poorly understood, necessitating continued study and research to ensure further Program success. The Commission must ensure that research needs are communicated to researchers and that adequate support is provided to address priority research needs in a timely manner.
In the past, the Commission identified Program research needs through the Commission, the Technical Committee, the agencies, and the U.S. Atlantic Salmon Assessment Committee. This process was most effective in resolving concerns directly at the manager to researcher level. Beyond that level, needs and resulting research have been less productive. Moreover, limited communication has resulted in misunderstandings and duplication of effort. Effectiveness can be improved by increased communication, enhanced by a formal, annual process for identifying needs and reviewing research results.
Commission and Technical Committee members as well as other agency staff need to be regularly informed of the results of research projects. In 1997, a special Technical Meeting was held that was devoted solely to presentations on current or recently completed research projects. This should become an annual event with more opportunity for discussion of the projects and future research.
Past prioritization of research needs has been done primarily through the U.S. Atlantic Salmon Assessment Committee. This prioritization has been helpful, but often research is not directed at the highest Program priorities for a variety of reasons. The Commission should develop a process to communicate specific priority needs to researchers to ensure that research needs and priorities are clearly understood by researchers.
Objective 5.C. Support priority research projects to address identified information gaps and research needs.
Research projects can be facilitated by the Commission in a variety of ways. The Commission can provide researchers with Atlantic salmon at various life stages and access to Program facilities. Additionally, technical advice from Program staff can be a valuable contribution to research projects.
Traditionally, the Commission has honored Atlantic salmon requests from researchers, agencies and consultants. Use of eggs and fish in research and management work has helped to improve fish passage efficiency, fish health protocols, and other critical efforts. The Commission and its members should provide up to 1% of the eggs and fry produced, and other life stages as available, to support endorsed research and management work when production is excess to Program needs. In addition, access to wild fish should be facilitated to support endorsed research and management work when wild fish are available, essential to the study, and when this will not negatively impact the Restoration Program.
Priority research projects often require access to fish culture facilities for research involving hatchery production or simply to house salmon being used for research. Fish passage facilities provide research opportunities on the fishways themselves and serve as fish collection points. The Commission should continue to provide researchers with access to its facilities where appropriate and encourage the continued cooperation of fish passage facility owners in allowing access to researchers.
Agency staff have provided their technical expertise to researchers by reviewing and commenting on research proposals, serving on graduate student committees, facilitating state permitting requirements, and providing technical knowledge to researchers. These contributions should continue to insure the highest possible quality of research to benefit the Program.
To date, the Commission has not solicited or expended funds on research, though it has authority to do so. Direct Commission funding would help to insure that high priority research would be conducted. The Commission and its members should solicit funding for the Commission to expend on priority research projects.
Though the Commission reviews much of the Atlantic salmon research conducted in the basin and frequently provides suggestions for improving study plans in order to ensure that identified Program needs will be met, there is no formal process in place to ensure that this will occur. The Commission and its members should develop a standardized process wherein proposals are reviewed annually against established criteria for endorsement and then endorsed by the Commission. These endorsements could be expected to lend credibility to the proposed project thereby enhancing prospects for outside funding. The process could also be utilized for identifying and selecting priority projects for direct funding from the Commission.
Goal 6. Create and Maintain a Public That Understands and Supports Salmon Restoration Efforts and Participates Whenever Possible.
All member agencies of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission currently conduct outreach activities designed to promote the Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program. In the past, outreach activities have typically been conducted on a piecemeal basis with limited coordination between agencies. Moreover, the activities have rarely been evaluated or designed specifically to accomplish Program objectives. This is of particular concern at a time when there is an increased need to utilize resources more effectively within the Program.
Outreach can be an effective tool in accomplishing defined management objectives. Outreach objectives, when clearly linked to Program objectives, focus efforts and enhance the potential for accomplishing Program goals, thus enhancing the value of outreach to the Program. Conducting strategic, coordinated outreach is key to ensuring that outreach efforts culminate in tangible, beneficial results.
Objective 6.A. Learn more about the people who can affect or who are affected by the Program.
The USFWS commissioned a survey, The Economic Benefits of the Restoration of Atlantic Salmon to New England Rivers, in 1987. The survey assessed public opinion on whether to continue the Program. The results indicated that New Englanders had a "strong and widespread interest" in salmon restoration. Their relative value for the Program was estimated to exceed the cost of the Program, indicating that restoration programs should be continued. The results of this survey were assumed to reflect sentiments in the Connecticut River watershed, but little effort has ever been made to corroborate this conclusion. A more current and local measure of public sentiment toward the Program is needed. It would serve to assist cooperators with outreach efforts if it was designed to identify the benefits and concerns expressed by specific groups. Such information would guide cooperators to supporters as well as to those with important issues regarding the Program. The information gained through this survey would enable cooperators to better and more directly address concerns through appropriate media, language, or activities. It would also help cooperators to more clearly realize the public value of the Program and emphasize these aspects in public outreach.
People have different expectations of the Restoration Program. The difference between their expectations and actual Program accomplishments determines how they perceive the success of the Program. It is therefore of great importance that cooperators understand public perception of the Program. Information about public perceptions, as measured in surveys, can be used to help cooperators realign public perception to fit the actual reality of what the Program will accomplish. Successful realignment of public expectations will measurably improve public perception and satisfaction with the Program.
It is not enough to know what public perceptions of the Program are, it is also important that cooperators identify and understand people who can affect or who are affected both positively and negatively by the Program. This understanding is critical if cooperators are to fully benefit from supporters and alleviate concerns and negative perceptions of those who are less supportive of the Program.
Once there is an understanding of who is affected by the Program, how those people feel about the Program and why they feel that way, it will be easier for cooperators to develop and deliver clear and effective messages. Delivery of those messages can then be coordinated to ensure that specific concerns are addressed and benefits realized. Cooperators can identify whether the messages were effective by surveying public opinions.
Objective 6.B. Promote public interest and involvement in the Restoration Program.
Public outreach conducted by the Commission and its member agencies has traditionally been educational, directed at both adults and students through speaking engagements, printed materials, interviews and classroom presentations. While individual efforts have been strong, the overall effect of this outreach for the Program as a whole has been limited, particularly in the northern reaches of the watershed where there is less agency presence. Future efforts should be strategically focused to effectively utilize available staff time, ensure consistent and accurate information transfers, coordinate efforts, create realistic public expectations, and ensure that Program objectives for public involvement are accomplished.
Coordination of outreach efforts in the multi-state/agency Program will benefit from the development of a clear, concise plan detailing steps for cooperators to take in order to maintain and develop the level of public interest and involvement required to accomplish restoration activities.
One of the current ways in which cooperators use outreach to accomplish Program goals is by eliciting volunteer help. Agencies have become dependent upon volunteer labor to accomplish fry stocking and egg production objectives due to expansion of the Program coupled with static or reduced agency staffing and funding levels. It is now essential that the Commission and its members, through coordinated efforts, ensure that volunteers will be available to accomplish important restoration activities throughout the basin.
Public expectations and perceptions of the Program are dependent upon public access and understanding of Program information and issues. It is of great importance that accurate information is available and that it be delivered in forms that are appropriate to specific publics. Effort must be made to tailor outreach to specific groups to maximize on their individual interests. Specific efforts should be made to reach those who can greatly affect the Program or who are greatly affected by the Program. Prioritizing efforts strategically will permit cooperators to choose how to spend limited time on outreach. Integrating common messages and themes in public presentations will help to ensure that these people are particularly aware of Program needs, successes, critical issues and concerns. This awareness should help to provide the motivation required to develop sustained interest and support for the Program.
Program effectiveness can be maximized if cooperators continue to support and develop partnerships and alliances with key private sector interests in the watershed, when common or complimentary objectives are shared. An example of this is in the classroom, where Program related curricula can be franchised to partners for presentation to increase public awareness, link the studies to Program concerns, and develop Program-specific support from constituencies. The opportunities for partnership are, however, endless and cooperators should work to develop innovative ways to reach out to common constituencies with new partners.
Objective 6.C. Include the public in the planning and the decision process to restore Atlantic salmon.
Public involvement in the decision-making process of the Program has been ensured by the appointment of Public Sector Commissioners from each of the four basin states to the Commission. Additionally, meetings of the Commission and its Technical Committee are open to the public from whom comments and questions are routinely addressed. Involvement at this level is important to ensure that public interests are considered in Commission business.
The Commission and its members should make efforts to continue to involve the public through traditional as well as innovative processes too ensure that the Program is adequately addressing public concerns and input.
Goal 7. Improve Administration and Operations Within the Program.
Complexities in the Program to restore Atlantic salmon to the Connecticut River are sometimes as much administrative as biological. Managing and coordinating the activities of seven state and federal agencies while addressing the concerns and interests of private industry, individuals and organizations is a challenging but important task faced by the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission. Traditionally, this has been successfully accomplished through the Commission, the Technical Committee, various sub-committees, and the Connecticut River Coordinator, employed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Objective 7.A. Enhance the Commission's ability to manage the Restoration Program.
Increased responsibilities, diminished staffs, and decreased budgets, coupled with lack of related Program precedents and rapidly changing technologies have sometimes strained Commission and agency capabilities and responsiveness with respect to Program administration and operations. Ideally, administrative functions are limited to those absolutely required to accomplish Program objectives, thereby maximizing time, energy and efforts available for on-the-ground restoration activities.
Clarifying Program focus and direction is of critical importance to Program cooperators, further necessitating completion and routine revision of both Strategic and Operational Plans. Quality planning documents will assist cooperators in developing a shared vision and in coordinating ongoing restoration activities.
The Commission can support Program needs by using its authorities to endorse and recommend activities designed to accomplish documented Program goals and objectives. It has additional authority to raise and expend funds for the same purposes. The Commission's fiscal capability is an important though rarely utilized tool that could alleviate new and continued funding concerns for monitoring, evaluation and research. This power will be especially valuable if further developed to assist agency cooperators in stretching limited Program funding to accomplish restoration activities.
It has sometimes been difficult to incorporate new technologies and research quickly and consistently. Strategic and Operational Plan revisions will help to provide needed guidelines and will also advance the Program through a more systematic application of current and ongoing research and technologies.
The Commission can help to ensure that the Program workload is fairly distributed and designed to accomplish Program goals through appropriate delegation of duties at the Technical Committee and sub-committee levels. This will not only result in equitable distribution of work but will also facilitate the inclusion of expert opinion and advice from outside sources.
Objective 7.B. Provide for centralized interagency coordination and information management.
The day-to-day management and administration of this multi-state/agency Restoration Program has been conducted primarily by the Connecticut River Coordinator's Office under the guidance of the Commission and with support from all of the Program cooperators. With such a diverse assemblage of agencies, groups and individuals working toward the common goal of bringing back Connecticut River populations of Atlantic salmon, effectiveness is enhanced by good coordination and communication. Strong Program accountability, availability of accurate information, commitment to public outreach and Program advocacy are all cornerstones of good communication. Focus on these priorities is best maintained by a single source, usually the Coordinator. When focus and accountability have been less centralized, Program effectiveness in this regard has been diminished.
The USFWS, through base-budget allocations, and cooperating states, through Dingle-Johnson Fisheries Restoration funds, have provided funding in support of central Program coordination. This type of multi-agency funding promotes an interest in and need for coordination activities. Activities and responsibilities in the Coordinator's Office have grown over the years to include coordination, data management, Program outreach and advocacy, and technical assistance. All of these activities are important both to the Program, ensuring that the public understands that the Program is viable and valuable. Over the years, operation costs and increased responsibilities have increased the cost of coordination. The USFWS has sometimes had difficulty meeting these increased obligations because of agency downsizing and budget short-falls. The states have also had difficulty increasing funding for coordination. These funding concerns have resulted in staff reductions through this period which have sometimes negatively impacted coordination activities.
The Coordinator's Office serves as a central library for large amounts of current and historic program data and information. Data are collected, maintained and distributed to support Program goals and the needs of four state and three federal agencies. The annual reporting of data to the Coordinator is the responsibility of cooperating agencies and offices. In some cases data collection and reporting have not been fully standardized between agencies and offices, complicating the comparability, evaluation and reporting of information. Other times, reporting delays are experienced. It is important to have a single location where data is managed, in a timely way, for the entire Program to facilitate information dissemination and Program accountability, within and outside of the Program.
Program accountability to date has been limited to the Commission meeting minutes and Strategic Plan, and individual state and federal reporting requirements including Federal Aid Progress Reports, Station Annual Reports, and U.S. Atlantic Salmon Assessment Committee Reports. Few documents have been printed and distributed expressly for the public. Documents designed to target public interest while providing accountability for Program expenditures and activities could help cooperators to maintain and develop support for the Restoration Program. Similarly, advocacy for Program values and public benefits have often been decentralized and reactive rather than proactive, especially in appeals to legislators. More strategic, frequent and routine contacts with decision makers, supporters and opposition will enhance their awareness of Program issues and will likely increase the Program support base.
Public outreach is an activity that has been conducted independently by all Program cooperators. The objective of sharing information is to inform and educate people about the Program so that they may value and support the Program. The public tends to receive Program information enthusiastically. However, consistent messages about the Program are not necessarily delivered because Program cooperators do not always have access to the same information. Additionally, there is no common goal or theme and no clearly defined spokesperson for the Program. Centralizing and coordinating public information dissemination in the Coordinator's Office will help to alleviate these concerns. This will help to improve public perception of the Program while helping to maintain and develop Program constituencies.
Biannual meetings of the Commission have served to keep member agencies aware of Program activities. The public has, at the same time, been able to participate in all of these open meetings. Yet, it is difficult to ensure that agencies, industry, groups and individuals, that can impact or are impacted by the Program, have adequate input to the Commission's decision-making process. Increased communications among and between these groups would likely benefit the Program while benefitting a variety of other public interests.
The Connecticut River Restoration Program has been blessed through the last three decades with a common work ethic focused on bringing salmon back to the river. Finding ways to make it easier for agencies, groups and individuals to work together to restore salmon to the Connecticut River is an important key to Program success. Utilization of Commission authorities and communication through the Coordinator are appropriate steps to continue facilitating such cooperation.
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