Salmon Class of 2013 ready to graduate

LAKE CLEAR – This year’s yearling stocking class of landlocked salmon from the state-run Adirondack Hatchery in Lake Clear looks like it will be pretty strong.

“We pretty much have them up to size already,” hatchery fish culturalist Ken Klubek told the Enterprise during a tour of the facilities last week. “We had a really good year with this year’s class. They did really well.”

The salmon that will be stocked this spring are actually from eggs that were laid in November 2011. It’s standard practice for most of the salmon stocking class to be about 18 months old when they are put in the waters in late April or early May.

The yearlings are generally about 6 inches long when they leave the hatchery in trucks, which means they are still far under the legal limit of 15 inches. So these fish have little bearing on the current fishing season, which starts today for trout and salmon.

The Adirondack Hatchery, which is run by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, is responsible for stocking salmon statewide and is the only state-run facility to stock salmon.

It stocks about a quarter-million yearlings annually and another 100,000 fry. Plus, it puts 5-year-old breeders into area ponds and lakes, after they have reproduced for three years.

The yearlings will be put in water bodies such as Lake Ontario, several of the Finger Lakes, and many lakes and ponds in the Adirondacks, including Lake Colby and Lake Clear.

The non-feeding fry are extremely young fish that are in the very early stages of development. Many of these fish are put into tributaries of Lake Champlain, with many of them going into the Boquet River.

“They can imprint on the stream better, and these require very little care or cost because we can put thousands and thousands of these guys in without feeding them,” Klubek said. “Obviously predation is going to be a lot higher; survival is going to be a lot lower because obviously they are so small.”

The strain of salmon that is being stocked is from Lake Sebago in Maine. The state has been using it for about five years, Klubek said.

“Vermont hatcheries have found that the Sebago strain has been returning better than the Little Clear strain,” Klubek said.

The Lake Sebago strain is phasing out an older strain that consisted of fish from several locations. It is known as the Little Clear Strain because many of the state’s breeding salmon are raised in Little Clear Pond, and the Lake Sebago strain will likely continue to be called the Little Clear strain even though it’s actually changed.

What the state does is raise female and male salmon in Little Clear Pond (where it is illegal to fish), in addition to some females in its facility ponds. Every November, fish hatchery workers take the eggs from the females and fertilize them with semen from the males.

The eggs are then put into incubators in the hatchery. In about January, they are put into large rectangular holding tanks. Around July, they are put into larger circular tanks, where they remain until they are ready to be stocked the following April or May. The whole cycle is about 18 months.

This past November, Klubek said hatchery workers took about 1.3 million eggs.

“We try to get a half a million from Little Clear Pond and then make up the rest in our production building with our brood stock,” he said.

Some of the eggs don’t wind up getting fertilized, while surplus fish find their way back into lakes and ponds. Having a good year like this one doesn’t necessarily mean the fish will be bigger heading into the water. They’re still about 6 inches. It just means they’re ready to go once the ice melts and the water warms up.

“If we have a good year class and a good growth, it just means we can stock as soon as the water is ready,” Klubek said.

For the Adirondacks, that’s still at least a few weeks away, as ice is still covering most lakes and ponds.