NEWPORT CITY – There are thousands of new fish in the Clyde River this week, thanks to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. The department dumped three truckloads of fish off the Clyde Street Bridge Monday and Tuesday.
The hatchery stocks 30,000 salmon smolts in the Clyde River every spring. The hatchery stocked another 3,000 fish total in Seymour and Willoughby lakes Tuesday afternoon.
“This is to enhance the natural run that comes out of the lake,” said David Yasharian, fish culture specialist for the Bald Hill Fish Hatchery in Newark, who was referring to Lake Memphremagog. The fish were born and raised at the hatchery about a year ago. “They’re from a strain of fish we probably had for 30 years. They’re originally from Lake Memphremagog.”
The fish are five to eight inches long. They will go into Lake Memphremagog for a couple of years before returning to the Clyde River as adults. Last year, biologists removed part of a fin off each fish so they can determine which fish came from the Bald Hill Hatchery and which were born "in the wild."
The state put the fish in the river at a time when they are programmed to swim to the lake.
“They go to the lake and start to eat like gangbusters,” said state biologist Len Gerardi. Some of the fish will reach 14 to 16 inches in length and may mature and return up the Clyde River to spawn this fall. Others will spend this and next year growing in the lake. “They will return back up the Clyde as mature adults intending to spawn. Many of them will try to spawn in the Lower Clyde.”
Some of the fish will climb the fish ladder at the powerhouse dam. Biologists will track those fish, which they will drop off in the Clyde River in Derby Center, by implanting a small passive tag in the fish. The tag entails a microchip and antenna.
Some of the fish will spend up to two years in the river until they get the migration urge to go down stream into Lake Memphremagog.
“This past year, we hope, will mark a milestone for us,” said Gerardi. “Fall of 2011, we had record numbers of landlocked Atlantic salmon use the fish ladder in Newport.”
The sale of fishing licenses and federal taxes on fishing equipment covers the fish stock program. Neither Gerardi nor Yasharian could say how much the program costs, but Yasharian said it’s not cheap.
Modifications of rivers by means of hydro dams and flood control dams make stocking waterways a necessity. The fish stocking in the Clyde River was started around 1866. However, the method has changed somewhat over the years. In the 1920s through 1940s, the state had an adult salmon trapping program on the Lower Clyde. Back then, the state had fish trap infrastructure.
“We could go in and capture returning adult salmon,” said Gerardi. “We would take the eggs and sperm and fertilize them. The offspring would get stocked back into the Clyde.”
Gerardi said landlocked Atlantic salmon are not native to Lake Memphremagog. It's possible the salmon were here before any settlement in Newport, probably around the early 1800s. Dam building in Quebec during the 1800s would have blocked those fish from coming into Lake Memphremagog.