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New York State Fish Hatcheries in Oswego County

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School visit to the Salmon River Fish Hatchery

New York's Salmon River Fish Hatchery and Oneida Lake Fish Cultural Station are among the most modern facilities in North America.

The Salmon River Hatchery in Altmar produces about four million trout and salmon each year to help make sportfishing opportunities in New York among the best in the world. The Oneida Lake Fish Cultural Station in Constantia is the largest, state-of-the-art walleye hatchery in the country and the first facility in North America intensively rearing large numbers of fingerling walleye.

The Salmon River Fish Hatchery, which began operation in 1981, is part of a major effort by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to meet stocking needs of Lakes Erie, Ontario and Champlain and their tributaries. The hatchery raises 250,000 coho salmon, 3.2 million chinook salmon, 600,000 steelhead, 200,000 landlocked Atlantic salmon, and 300,000 brown trout each year.

The Oneida Lake Fish Cultural Station was renovated and expanded in 1993, and is the most modern facility of its kind. According to recent DEC statewide angler surveys, walleye ranks third after bass and brown trout as the most sought after fish. The facility's capacity is 400 million eggs, producing 200 million fry and 250,000 to 300,000 4-inch to 5-inch fingerlings.

Why Stock Gamefish?

At one time, Lake Ontario supported the largest population of lake-dwelling Atlantic salmon known to man, while both Lakes Erie and Ontario were excellent lake trout fisheries. However, by 1900 the salmon had vanished. By 1950 the lake trout had also disappeared from most of the Great Lakes. What happened? Destruction of habitat, over fishing, predation by an exotic parasitic fish called the sea lamprey, and numerous dams which prevented salmon from reaching spawning streams all led to the disappearance of these spectacular fish.

Human disturbances and over exploitation also resulted in the substantial loss of the walleye population in New York's waters. Walleye is a highly popular sport fish due to its excellent eating quality. The Oneida Lake Hatchery's purpose is to increase walleye population in 89 existing lakes.

Through the work of the two hatcheries, world class sports fisheries have been created in the waters of New York and the Great Lakes.

Raising Trout, Salmon, and Walleye

The hatchery operations are based on the reproductive cycles of trout, salmon and walleye. Each fall chinook and coho salmon from Lake Ontario swim up the Salmon River, then Beaverdam Brook, and finally up the ladder to the Salmon River Hatchery. One to three years earlier, these same fish were released from the hatchery smolt pond and swam down the same route to reach Lake Ontario.

During spawning operations, eggs and milt from adults are combined to start a new generation. Up to nine million salmon eggs can be incubated at one time at the Salmon River Hatchery. The eggs hatch after about one month and are transferred to "start tanks" after they have absorbed their yolk sac, about one month later.

While in the start tanks, the young salmon, now called fry, grow to about three inches in length and are then called fingerlings. Chinook salmon are stocked at this size, about six months after hatching. Coho salmon are raised an additional year in the outdoor raceways and released the following spring, at about five to six inches long.

Steelhead, which spawn in the spring, are also raised at the Salmon River Hatchery and are stocked at about one year of age. Brown trout and landlocked Atlantic salmon, which spawn in the fall, are transferred in as fingerlings from other hatcheries and raised until about 14 months of age.

Trout and salmon raised at the Salmon River Hatchery are trucked to stocking sites and released into tributaries, harbors or directly into the lakes. Once in the lakes, the young fish grow rapidly. Chinook salmon in Lake Ontario, for example, may exceed 40 pounds after five summers, while brown trout and steelhead may exceed 20 pounds. The current Great Lakes record chinook (47-pounds, 13-ounces) and world record coho (33-pounds, 4-ounces) were caught in the Salmon River during their spawning run to the Salmon River Hatchery. When mature, salmon and steelhead return to the stocking site to spawn. Those released directly from the hatchery return to it to start the cycle again.

Adult walleye are collected in 20-25 trap nets set in Oneida Lake. They are transported to the Oneida Lake Hatchery in boats and placed in adult holding tanks. Here, the walleye are hand sorted as to male, ripe female (capable of being stripped on day of collection) or hard female (to be held for later stripping). To collect the 400 million eggs the hatchery needs, over 40,000 walleye are handled each year. This process usually occurs in an 8 - 14 day period during the first week or two of April. Fingerling rearing begins after the 21 -day egg incubation period when newly-hatched fry are ready to be fed brine shrimp. After consuming brine shrimp for 40 days, the walleyes are then switched to a formulated diet, reared for 100 days or more, and are released at four to five inches in length.

The Oneida Lake Fish Cultural Station will help in the restoration of self-sustaining and abundant walleye population in 33 waters. The hatchery is also trying to introduce and establish new walleye populations in 21 waters.

Visitor Hours

The Salmon River Hatchery is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week from March 15 to November 30. Informative exhibits, including mounted and live fish, introduce visitors to fish hatchery operations and the DEC's Great Lakes Management Program. A self-guided tour allows visitors to watch hatchery operations. Depending on the time of year, visitors may observe fish swimming into the hatchery, the egg taking process, and fish tagging.

Most people enjoy visiting the hatchery during the spawning seasons -- Salmon spawn in October and steelhead spawn in late March/early April. You may call the hatchery in advance of your visit to find out which activities are in progress. Approximately 200,000 visitors view the facility annually.

The Oneida Lake Fish Cultural Station is open from April 1 to September 30 seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The adult walleye collection in April is the most interesting to the public since large adult walleyes can be viewed at the hatchery. Tour guides will be available at this time. Group tours can be arranged by contacting the hatchery.

School Visits

Hatchery operations, especially during spawning runs, offer a unique educational experience.

For more information or to arrange for visits, contact:

DEC Salmon River Fish Hatchery
County Route 22
Altmar, New York 13302
Telephone: (315) 298-5051

Oneida Lake Fish Cultural Station
Box 303
Hatchery Road
Constantia, NY 13044
Telephone: (315) 623-7311

How to Get There

Salmon River Fish Hatchery

Take Interstate 81 to Exit 36 (Pulaski). At the exit, turn onto NYS Route 13 and head east for approximately 7 miles. Turn left onto County Route 22 at Altmar, and follow the signs to the hatchery.

Oneida Lake Fish Cultural Station

Take Interstate 81 to Exit 32 (Central Square). Turn onto NYS Route 49 and head east for 15 miles. The hatchery is on the north side of the road, just after the Village of Constantia.

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