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THE ATLANTIC SALMON STORY

Since Atlantic salmon disappeared from the Conneticut River in the early 1800s, restoration of the fish required reintroduction of salmon to the river. Hatcheries are used to produce and reintroduce these lost populations. It is a slow process because salmon are genetically adapted to the streams in which they grow so it takes many generations of salmon to fit the fish to its new river. Almost every salmon that returns to the Connecticut River began its life in a hatchery. Hatchery intervention is a tool to speed the slow evolutionary process of restoring a population of fish to the river. Hatcheries in the salmon restoration program produce 7-9 million fry every year.

Because the Atlantic salmon that are in the Connecticut River today came from hatchery reintroductions to the river, this population of salmon has not been listed as an endangered species. The salmon that are found here today have ancestors in the Penobscot River. The endangered Atlantic salmon are only found in certain rivers in Maine.

Atlantic salmon adults return to the Connecticut River in the spring. They spawn in the fall by digging nests, known as redds, in the gravel bottom of headwater streams. Females deposit their eggs in these depressions with the males following close behind to deposit their milt. The adults then leave for the ocean (and are known as kelts) as soon as possible after spawning, which may be in the fall or later the following spring. Eggs hatch in spring and the hatchlings, also known as alevins or sac fry, remain in the gravel until their yolk sac is absorbed. They then emerge to feed as 1-1/2 inch long fry. Salmon juveniles, or parr, usually spend two years growing in the various tributaries to the Connecticut River before moving out to the ocean. They migrate to sea when they reach a length of 6-7 inches. At this point their bodies go through a physiological change, called smoltification, so that they can live in saltwater and they are called smolts. Salmon live and grow for two years in the Atlantic Ocean before returning to spawn as silvery 30-inch long adults. Their 3,550 mile journey through the North Atlantic Ocean takes them as far as the coast of Greenland, yet, when they return, they find their way home to the river where they grew into a smolt.

A female salmon lays about 7,500 eggs. Some of the eggs are suffocated in the gravel by silt and shifting stream sediment. Others are eaten by fish, and so only about 4,500 of the eggs layed will hatch to become fry. Fry are preyed upon by other fish, herons, kingfishers and mink. Even fewer fry, about 50, become smolts. Tuna, cod, bluefish, seals, and lamprey feed on smolts at sea. Of the 50 smolts that migrate to the sea, only two are expected to return again, replacing their parents in this complicated by magnificent cycle of life.