Connecticut River Coordinator's Office
Northeast Region
Photo of a volunteer stocking fry in the Sawmill River - Photo credit:  Draper White
Photo of a volunteer stocking fry in the Sawmill River. Credit: Draper White

The Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission (Commission), in this revised Strategic Plan for the Restoration of Atlantic Salmon to the Connecticut River (Plan), provides a summary of past and current Atlantic salmon restoration efforts and a vision for focusing interagency restoration activities. Strategies have been developed that address the challenges facing future restoration and are the next step to accomplishing the Program's mission: to protect, conserve, restore and enhance the Atlantic salmon population in the Connecticut River basin for the public benefit, including recreational fishing.

The Plan describes how the multi-state/federal, interagency Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program (Program) is guided by the Commission with recommendations from the Technical Committee. The Commission is composed of ten Commissioners from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (CTDEP), Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MAFW), New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game (NHFG), Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife (VTFW), a public sector representative appointed by the governor of each State, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MAMF) are represented on the Technical Committee in addition to representatives from all of the above agencies.

The need and reason for the Commission and Technical Committee are readily understood given the number of agencies involved, the enormity of the Connecticut River watershed, and the complex and varied life histories of the fish species of the Connecticut River. The Connecticut River is the longest river in New England, stretching from Canada to Long Island Sound and supporting over 60 species of fish, 14 of which are migratory. The unique character of the Connecticut River basin has shaped and defined the Restoration Program. The basin contains 38 tributaries that are of importance to the restoration of Atlantic salmon.

The Atlantic salmon has a complex life cycle in both fresh and saltwater, the requirements for which are not yet fully understood. We do know that, prior to colonization, salmon lived in the Connecticut River in substantial numbers; they are long-lived at about five years per generation; they require clean well-oxygenated water and cobble-bottom river habitat; their life cycle requires suitable marine and freshwater conditions; they migrate thousands of miles to the North Atlantic Ocean and back; and they face many perils including over-harvest, dams, pollution and predation.

The Program, throughout its history, has attempted to address these perils in its efforts to re-introduce the extirpated salmon. The native population was lost in the early 1800s when dams prevented access to spawning habitat. Success of the first restoration initiative in the 1860s was short-lived because of unregulated harvest, limited interstate cooperation, and ineffective fish passage facilities. The current Program was initiated a century later, in 1967, when the states agreed to work cooperatively on restoration. The current Program has been aided by the Clean Water Act which provided for a better environment, the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act which provided states with funding, and the improvement of technology and opportunity for providing access to upstream habitat.

Since initiation of the Program three decades ago, an annual return of sea-run Atlantic salmon, numbering in the hundreds, has been established; a reliable river-specific egg source has been developed; in-stream production of smolts is occurring; upstream passage is in place at the first five mainstem dams providing access as far as the base of Ryegate dam; interim and permanent downstream passage is in place at the lowermost eight mainstem dams including McIndoes Falls dam; and downstream passage is also in place on a number of tributaries including the Salmon, Farmington, Westfield, West, Black, Sugar, Ashuelot, Ammonoosuc, and Passumpsic Rivers. Fish culture, fish health management, stocking and regulation of high seas fisheries have also been improved.

As a result, the Commission is optimistic about the Program and what it can accomplish within the first quarter of the twenty-first century. Accomplishments planned for the Program include: an increase in the number of returning salmon; increased natural in-stream smolt production; improved downstream fish passage; and the beginning of the development of tributary-specific stocks of Atlantic salmon.

However, a number of challenges remain which may impact the speed and degree of success of restoration. These include: increasing annual program hatchery production capability to totals of 10,000,000 fry and 100,000 smolts; managing sea-run salmon returns to perpetuate the Connecticut River stock; facilitating natural in-stream production, research, and education; protecting, maintaining, enhancing, and providing access to quality habitat; improving restoration capabilities through focused research; and, ensuring that the public understands and values the Program and its benefits.

The goals, objectives and strategies outlined in the Plan are designed to guide restoration activities and lead the Program into the twenty-first century. Short-term actions needed to accomplish the objectives outlined in the Plan will be presented later in an Action Plan and that will be updated as needed to ensure that the Program goals and objectives are accomplished.

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Last updated: September 14, 2010
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