It’s all About the Fish and Some Help from Friends

Salmon and trout rearing pens have delivered a powerful addition to the Lake Ontario and Lower Niagara River recreational fish industry. This beautiful cold-water monster was caught April 10 near Lewiston, New York, below Niagara Falls. Frank Campbell/Niagara Region Charter Service Photo

It’s all about the fish.  Fishing groups and other business organizations are getting ready to start putting their pens together in an effort to accept salmon and trout from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).  Pens?  Are we talking writing implements?  What’s the explanation?


Since 1998, groups have been building holding pens for salmon and trout in Lake Ontario for a two-fold purpose: improve the survival rates of the fish being stocked; and to imprint the fish to a particular area or body of water.  This is crunch time and early to mid-April is usually when volunteers rally to get the annual effort kicked off.

For example, the Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Association (LOTSA) in Niagara County, New York, spearheads an effort in the Port of Olcott at the Town of Newfane Marina.  Since 2005, the group has been building these holding pens to house some 67,000 Chinook salmon for three to four weeks.  The club added another pen in 2006 to hold 3,500 steelhead.  It’s all about the fish.

On April 9 at 9:00 a.m., volunteers convened at the Town of Newfane Marina in Olcott to assemble the pens and secure the netting.  This is all in preparation for receiving the fish from DEC on April 13 at 1:00 p.m.  Things start to happen quickly once that is complete, but much more volunteer support is always needed.  When the fish are in the pens, they must be fed 4 or 5 times a day.  Fishermen and women; youngsters with their Dads; Boy Scouts and other groups, all pitch in to lend a hand at feeding the adopted fish for the port.  If you are local or nearby to the area and want to know more, go on the LOTSA website at to sign up or identify additional information.


During recent studies conducted by DEC, the agency discovered that fish survival rates in the pens actually out-survive the direct stocked fish at a rate of better than two to one – good news when you are trying to get the biggest bang for your angling buck.  However, the study isn’t over with yet.  This is the final year for checking fish that have been fin clipped and outfitted with coded wire tags in the snouts of the kings, many of which were reared in pens first.  Local angling leaders are pushing to expand those efforts, too, by getting more people involved with the collection process.


Led by LOTSA and the Niagara County Fisheries Development Board, the interested parties are hoping to get freezers in place by May 1 at Fort Niagara in Youngstown, New York, to complement the freezers in Wilson and Olcott.

Because of all the big fishing contests during the month of May, it is hoped that many of the participants will cooperate and look for the missing adipose fin, giving them cause to save the head of the fish and ultimately the coded wire tag for biologists.  All the information of that fish is on the tag – including where and when it was stocked.  The study should be completed this coming fall after the salmon run – three-year old fish that will be facing their end of its life cycle.

Again, this is more information to allow DEC to better manage the fishery.  There are 10 different pen-rearing projects along the south shore of Lake Ontario as far as the Empire State is concerned; more on the Canadian side of the lake.

It’s a perfect way to “share the outdoors.”

It’s all about the fish!