CONCORD — One of the first questions that came in to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department following the recent closure of the Merrimack River salmon restoration program was, “What does this mean for the Atlantic salmon brood stock fishery?”
While many of the details remain uncertain, for this fall’s stocking, it means extra fish. About 1,500 Atlantic salmon, ranging from 2 to 5 pounds, have been released at the usual fall stocking sites in Franklin and Bristol.
“This is double the usual number of fish that typically get stocked in the fall,” said Fish and Game Anadromous Fisheries Coordinator Matt Carpenter. “So, if you have been meaning to get out and fish for fall brood stock, but just never found the time, this is your last chance.”
To fish for brood stock salmon, anglers need a current New Hampshire fishing license and an $11 brood stock salmon permit; both are available at fishnh.com or from license agents statewide. All salmon caught from Oct. 1 through March 31 must be released immediately.
To watch a three-minute video of New Hampshire fishing guide Jon Lockwood fishing for brood stock Atlantic salmon in the Merrimack, visit fishnh.com/Fishing/atlantic_salmon.htm.
The brood stock salmon have been stocked this fall at two sites, below the Eastman Falls Dam in Franklin and the Ayers Island Dam in Bristol. The first good spots to try for the brood stock salmon are below the Ayers Island Dam in Bristol along the Coolidge Woods Road, the Profile Falls Recreation Area (the access site near the Smith River confluence), below the Eastman Falls Dam in Franklin and the public boat launch behind the Franklin High School on the Winnipesaukee River. An access map is available at fishnh.com/Fishing/atlantic_salmon.htm.
Most broodstock anglers use traditional salmon flies or trout streamers such as Grey Ghosts, Mickey Finns or any patterns that imitate small baitfish. Fishing with spinning gear is allowed in the section of the river below the Garvins Falls Dam in Bow. Anglers should review the special regulations for brood stock salmon at the Fish and Game website.
Looking ahead to next year, brood stock salmon should be available for stocking in the spring of 2014, but most likely there will not be fish to stock for the fall of 2014.
“So, get out there and take advantage of the low river flows and the extra fish while this stretch of beautiful early fall weather continues,” Carpenter said.
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in September that the Merrimack River Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program is coming to a close. The service will no longer be funding hatchery operations for the program and, without their support, the program cannot continue.
“This was disappointing news for everyone who has been involved with the program,” Carpenter said, “although there is some comfort in knowing that the efforts to restore Atlantic salmon have resulted in great improvements to fish habitat and water quality in the Merrimack River watershed.”
The decision to end the Merrimack River Salmon Restoration Program is yet another symptom of an alarming trend, according to Carpenter. Atlantic salmon populations in the United States continue to decline, despite intensive efforts at restoration. Survival at sea appears to be the major factor preventing the recovery of the species.
“With the recent closure of the Connecticut River, and now the Merrimack River salmon restoration programs, it is now up to fisheries managers in Maine to try to hold off the extirpation of Atlantic salmon from U.S. waters, in the hope that ocean conditions eventually will improve,” he said. “Sustaining a long-term Atlantic salmon restoration strategy will be a difficult task in the current climate of ever-decreasing government resources.”
The Atlantic salmon broodstock fishery was a byproduct of the Merrimack River Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program, which, after more than 30 years of working to restore salmon to the Merrimack River, finally came to an end last month.
Brood stock salmon were kept by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to produce offspring, or “fry,” more than a million of which were released each spring in an effort to restore migrating Atlantic salmon to the Merrimack River basin. After spawning at the hatchery, the brood stock fish were released in the Merrimack, creating the only managed salmon fishery in New England.