Overview Research Personnel Links Contact
Project Overview

Associated Projects

Adult Salmon Research

Spawning Distribution
Redd Characteristics
Creel survey
Carcass Counts
Hatchery Counts

Juvenile Salmon Research

Habitat Preference

Migration Research

Migration Timing


This project is providing important information about the wild production of Chinook salmon in the Salmon River.

Other projects conducted around the Basin by agencies, universites and other partners are documenting wild reproduction of salmon and trout, and providing managers with other scientific knowledge needed to effectively manage this highly-valued diverse fishery.


Natural Reproduction of Chinook Salmon in the Salmon River, NY

Background of Salmon River Project

Non-native Pacific salmon released from hatcheries are a major component of the Lake Ontario recreational fishery, where annual angler expenditures exceed $170 million (Connelly 1999). The salmon fishery generates economic activity in the surrounding coastal communities; therefore any decrease in angler participation translates to a reduction in money spent on travel, accommodations, local fishing guides and products.

Stocking levels receive considerable bi-national management attention and public scrutiny (Kocik and Jones 1999; O’Gorman and Stewart 1999; Stewart et al. 1999). What began as a management experiment to control overabundant alewife populations in the 1970s has evolved into a multi-million dollar put-and-take fishery relied upon by coastal communities.

photo couresy of Fran Verdoliva

By the 1980s stocking of salmonines increased to over 8 million fish, until 1992 when OMNR and NYDEC underwent a management review (O’Gorman and Stewart 1999). Decisions by managers to reduce stocking levels to 4.5 million fish in 1994 received much resistance from the public. Due to stakeholder demand, and a second management review (Anonymous 1996), stocking was increased slightly in 1997 and maintained between 4 and 5.5 million fish annually (Stewart and Schaner 2001). This stocking level is set by managers with only a limited understanding of the relative contribution that Lake Ontario streams make to overall salmonine production (Rand et al. 1993). The conflicting realities of the changing productivity of the Lake and stakeholder desires present a fishery management dilemma (GLFC, 2003).

The public’s understanding about the contribution that natural reproduction can make to the overall salmonine fishery is also limited by available information, which also hinders effective management of stocking levels. Stakeholders desire a diverse salmonine fishery with chinook salmon as the top species, and recently have expressed support for an increase in naturally spawned or “wild” fish. (Stewart et al, 1999). Managers need better data to communicate with the public about natural reproduction as a source of natural “stocking.” The current public perception and the dominant management paradigm of a “put and take” fishery can only be changed with adequate information about the natural reproductive potential of the Lake Ontario system.

The Salmon River is located in Oswego County, New York at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. It is considered to be the best place in the Northeast United states for salmon angling because of its high diversity of trophy-size salmon and trout including Chinook salmon, coho salmon , steelhead trout, Atlantic salmon, and brown trout.

View from the bridge above Staircase Hole on the Salmon River

With the establishment of minimal base flows in 1996 through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s licensing process, the Salmon River is likely the largest source of naturalized Chinook salmon entering Lake Ontario. The current contribution of naturally produced salmonines in Lake Ontario tributaries is unknown. Our research will quantify Chinook salmon reproduction in the Salmon River. We will use split beam hydroacoustic technology in combination with other techniques to count the number of adult salmon returns in the fall, and the number of smolts migrating downstream the following spring. Highly variable flows and the size of the Salmon River preclude using weirs and other commonly used assessment methods for monitoring salmon adult returns and smolt recruitment. Hydroacoustic split-beam systems have advantages over more direct counting procedures because data can be continuously collected for months at a time with limited attention. These systems also provide important information on timing of spawning runs, fish size, fish speed, and tracking fish trajectories in three-dimensions, yielding valuable behavioral data in addition to escapement estimates.

This project will also quantify fry-smolt densities and habitat throughout the river basin bi-weekly from late April to early July in 2004 and 2005. Seine haul estimates coupled with trapping will be used to determine fry distribution and abundance in a representative set of habitats. Studies will also include the distribution and abundance of chinook salmon redds in the fall of 2004 and 2005, a creel census and carcass counts. The overall approach is to estimate potential smolt production from fry/parr data, and to then directly measure actual emigration rates with acoustic technology.

Project Objectives:

  1. Determine juvenile salmon distribution and abundance in various habitats by seining and trapping.
  2. Estimate adult abundance (creel census,hatchery and carcass counts) and identify spawning areas.
  3. Map spawning areas and juvenile habitat using GIS to estimate total abundance of juvenile salmon.
  4. Monitor adult chinook salmon migration and juvenile salmon emigration using hydroacoustics.
  5. Compare estimates of juvenile abundance based on hydroacoustics with estimates based on sampling and GIS modeling.
  6. Relate juvenile emigration rates to measured river discharge



Page last modified October 30, 2015

Project Cooperators

New York
Department of Environmental Conservation

Project funded by New York Sea Grant