Federal Agency Ends Connecticut River Salmon Restoration

An historic federal effort to restore a once-famed fish run is ending in failure. But while the US Fish and Wildlife Service says it is abandoning its 45 year old effort to restore migratory salmon to the Connecticut River, local efforts will continue. 

The federal restoration program began in 1967 at an annual cost of $2 million. Ken Sprankle is the Connecticut River Coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service. He says the agency’s tightening budget – and the low numbers of returning salmon – hurt the program’s viability . And he notes that the river’s native salmon disappeared in the early 1800’s, a victim of pollution and dams that barred their access to spawning grounds. Restoring a brand new salmon population is more difficult because it must be adapted to alien habitat.

“The population we’ve been working with has come from a number of different donor sources from the beginning of the program. So [for] the group of fish we’ve been using, that is a real uphill battle and a huge challenge when you’re trying to restore a population.”

Sprankle says despite decades of work with hatcheries and breeding areas, only 50 migrating adult salmon were counted at the Holyoke Dam fish ladder this year. andrew fisk is executive director of the connecticut river watershed council. he says that though the federal program is ending, state-level restoration efforts are ongoing, while federal programs continue to aid other fish species.

“No one’s left and turned off the lights, with regards to the ecological health of the Connecticut River. The lights are still on, there’s lots of people working. But yeah, salmon restoration – that’s hard.”

Fisk says other migratory populations making headway include River Herring, Sturgeon, the American Eel, and the American Shad, which turned up in record numbers at the Holyoke Dam this year.