Since September, he had been making frequent trips to the Winooski One Dam, also known as Chace Mill, to assess and count migrating landlocked Atlantic salmon taking the fish elevator — a metal hopper full of water — to the top of the hydroelectric station on Vermont’s Winooski River.
Staff from Burlington Electric, operator of the dam, run the elevator each day and place the fish they collect in a holding tank of river water to await an evaluation by Simard, who is a district fisheries biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.
“We collect data on length, weight, sex, and genetics,” Simard said. “Then we put them in a tank in the back of a pickup truck to be driven upstream past two other dams.”
Since 1993, the “Trap and Truck” fish-passage program has made it possible for salmon migrating up the Winooski from Lake Champlain to access more than 20 miles of spawning habitat beyond these barriers.
This year, along with its 30th anniversary, the trap-and-truck program celebrated a new milestone.
By mid-October, the salmon tally at the dam was nearing 189 — the previous record for a season. On October 23, Simard counted fish number 190. “It was exciting,” he said.
It wasn’t over yet. By the time the season ended in late November, the total had reached 212 — an 12% increase from the previous high.
“It’s the highest number we’ve recorded in 30 years of monitoring,” said Laurie Earley, supervisory fish biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office.
That number is an indicator of the success of a multi-decade, multi-partner effort to restore salmon to the Lake Champlain basin, led by the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative — a partnership between the Service, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, and New York Department of Environmental Conservation, along with many advisors like the University of Vermont and the Lake Champlain Basin Program.
It’s also the sum of many parts. “There are many factors that account for the increase,” Earley said. “The story about salmon restoration here is about more than the Winooski River.”
In the late 1800s, salmon in the Lake Champlain basin started to swim up against numerous challenges: overfishing, agricultural runoff, development, and — the deal-breaker for a migratory fish species — dams built across rivers. If salmon can’t reach the cool, shallow, gravel stream beds they need to spawn, they simply won’t reproduce. End of story.
For the last 30 years, the trap-and-truck program has turned what had long been a dead end — the first dam on the Winooski River — into a short-cut to their destination.
The excitement around the record-breaking count this year isn’t just about more salmon showing up; it’s about more salmon coming back.
Continue reading at fwd.gov