Connecticut River Coordinator's Office
Northeast Region
Photo of eyed Atlantic salmon eggs - Photo credit:  USGS
Photo of eyed Atlantic salmon eggs. Credit: USGS

Records from the 19th century on the status of the restoration of Connecticut River basin fisheries, the first restoration program, read very much like those from the second restoration program conducted a century later.

From the Report of the Fish Commissioners of the State of Vermont, dated November 1, 1867:

" . . . valuable fish, such as salmon, shad, herring, alewife, trout, black bass, striped bass, and lamprey eel . . . a half century ago, furnished abundant and wholesome food for the people; but, by the erection of impassable dams, the needless pollution of ponds and rivers, and by the reckless fishing, in all ways and at all times, our streams and lakes have been pretty much depopulated."

" . . . there is a great interest felt in the subject re-stocking our streams, and the belief is . . . that it can be done."

Ulysses S. Grant signed legislation in 1871 which established a U.S. Fish Commissioner to find out why food fish populations were declining and what could be done about it. Spencer Fullerton Baird was appointed to this position.

Afterward, the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries’ Report of the Fish Commission for 1872 and 1873 stated:

"All [Congress]…agreed that it was important, and realized that State aid could not accomplish the object, and that the General Government must come in to assist; especially as the waters to be stocked belonged to many states, and it was not the interest of one state to provide fish for the others, inasmuch as what one state might sow the others might reap."

On June 14, 1872 the first Federal appropriation for the propagation of shad and salmon in the rivers of the United States was granted.

"The salmon have been killed out of the waters of Massachusetts for the last 28 years. The Massachusetts Commissioners succeeded in getting a few thousand, and distributing them in the headwaters of certain streams. This was three years ago, and this year, for the first time, the market in Boston has had a great many salmon, weighing from 2-3 pounds, taken in gill nets for mackerel."

The first program eventually failed but was notable for the successes demonstrated in both shad and salmon production and stocking.

One of the earliest known fish culturists, Seth Green, took eggs from shad in Holyoke, Massachusetts in 1867 and successfully produced shad for the first time. This was the beginning of the new science of fish culture. It provided an almost immediate solution to the dramatic decline in fish populations for the purpose of resurrecting the commercial fishing industry. Since hatchery propagation was successful, it was quickly adopted throughout the country. This is how hatcheries came to be a potent tool in fisheries management. Today, hatcheries are still working to restore declining fish populations, when needed, for the public benefit as well as for conservation. The science has since evolved to include This link opens in a new windownew technologies in fish culture, nutrition, fish health and genetics management.

When efforts to restore migratory fish to the Connecticut River were started in 1967, it was realized that some fish populations, like shad, would quickly multiply if they were provided access to more and better spawning and nursery habitat. Thus, shad restoration drove the effort to improve fish passage at Connecticut River mainstem dams up to Bellows Falls, VT. At the time, hatchery production was not required.

Atlantic salmon restoration was a different story because the native Connecticut River stock of Atlantic salmon had been extinct for over 150 years. As a result, it was necessary to import stocks of salmon from other rivers like the Penobscot River in Maine. Thus, Atlantic salmon have been grown in hatcheries and then released in tributaries throughout the Connecticut River basin in the hope that they will become as finely adapted to this river as their river of origin.

Since the mid-1990s, the program ceased to import outside stocks of salmon and has relied solely on its own adult returns. All of the returning "sea-run" salmon are captured and transported to hatchery holding facilities where they are later spawned. This step is necessary so that the hatchery program can benefit from the genetics of fish that have survived and returned to spawn. The down side is that very few adult salmon (10% of those that return to Holyoke and/or DSI) are released to spawn naturally reducing the number that is ever seen in the northern reaches of the basin.

The up side is that these cooperative efforts have resulted in a fairly stable production of salmon in freshwater habitat and a somewhat less stable annual return of adult Atlantic salmon.


In 2005, State and Federal hatcheries in the Connecticut River basin collaborated to achieve almost 83% of the Atlantic salmon egg production goals, 78% of the fry stocking goals, and 84% of the smolt stocking goals.

A total of 12.5 million eggs were produced at five State and Federal hatcheries. Volunteers donated thousands of hours of their time to help release 7.8 million Atlantic salmon including over 84,000 smolts. Additionally, several thousand surplus adult Atlantic salmon were stocked in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont in support of recreational fisheries in those states.

Photo of a person vaccinating the returning adult Atlantic salmon against disease at the Richard Cronin NSS in Sunderland, MA - Photo credit:  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Photo of a person vaccinating the returning adult Atlantic salmon against disease at the Richard Cronin NSS in Sunderland, MA. Credit: USFWS

Atlantic salmon are susceptible to a number of diseases and parasites which can result in high mortality. The present comprehensive This link opens in a new windowfish health management practices have been highly successful in abating significant losses. These practices involve a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the specific parasite, bacterial and viral threats, incorporating non-lethal, pre epizootic pathogen detection, antibiotic/vaccine protocols for broodstock, disinfection of eggs to break vertical transmission, vaccination of smolts, and the experimentation, evaluation and eventual approval of safe and effective thearapeutic compounds.

For more details on the fish production program, go to the U.S. Atlantic Salmon Assessment Committee Report.

DNA Fingerprinting: What does crime scene technology have to do with Atlantic salmon restoration?

Millions of 1-1/2 inch long Atlantic salmon are stocked into streams that flow into the Connecticut River every spring. One fry looks pretty much like the next. This makes it difficult to determine which streams produce the most smolts and which are associated with the most returning adults. Managers want this information so they can choose the best sites for stocking all of these young fish.

The young fish, or fry, are too small to tag or mark with conventional methods. So, researchers at the This link opens in a new windowU.S. Geological Survey’s Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center in Turners Falls, Massachusetts decided to try to fingerprint the fish. Most of us are familiar with the crime scene technology used to identify criminals from skin, hair, or blood samples. The same technology was used on the fish. It has revolutionized how fishery science monitors salmon.

Here’s how it works: Hatchery managers clip a tiny piece of the fin from each adult Atlantic salmon – whether a sea-run salmon from the ocean or a domestic brood stock at the hatchery. That DNA from that fin is analyzed before the fish are spawned. On spawning day, the fish are paired to maximize genetic diversity based on their individual DNA fingerprints. Since the scientists know the DNA of the parents, they can predict and distinguish offspring by the genetic outcome. This effectively marks or fingerprints the fish so that they can be identified as they grow in freshwater and later when they return as adults. Ultimately, when there is enough data available from this work, managers will be able to better identify the families that are the best survivors, the tributaries that produce the most returns, and the most unproductive habitat. This should help fishery managers improve stocking plans, restore and protect salmon habitat, and identify critical fish passage needs on obstructed tributaries.


Last updated: September 14, 2010
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