Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pen-Reared Trout and Salmon

Capt. Gerry Bresadola (red vest) receiving a $1,000 donation from Brookfield Renewable Power for the pen rearing program in 2008. General Manager John Elmer (sport coat) gave the award as David Turner (shirt and tie), Director of Community Development, Tourism and Planning Dept., and several volunteers look on.

Without a doubt, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation deserves the lion's share of the credit for Lake Ontario's world class steelhead and salmon fisheries. Still, legions of average Joes and Janes, either single-handedly or in small groups, have made generous contributions to the effort, too. One of the best, most productive examples of citizen activism is the pen-rearing going on right now at the Oswego Marina.

It wasn't easy starting the program. Gerry Bresadola, a charter boat captain many credit with being the brains behind the movement, and of a cast of local characters, including Mike Conroy and the late Jack Quinlan, got the ball rolling. "We argued with the DEC for three to four years for cooperation," says Bresadola.

When the authorities finally agreed, other locals joined in. Mike Dalonzo and Greg Hackett built the pens. The Oswego Marina put the cages into the water and allowed them to be anchored to its docks for the duration, and removed them after the fish were released.

Currently, DEC supplies 40,000 kings and 20,000 steelhead annually. Charter boat captains operating out of the Oswego Marina feed the critters five times a day.

This year's batch came in on April 15. Bresadola says water temperatures are rapidly rising to the maximum the fish can tolerate (mid 60s). He expects the cages will be towed out beyond the lighthouse on or around May 13, and the fish will be released in the open lake.

There are good reasons for keeping the fish temporarily penned up. One is to give the salmon time to imprint to the water so they'll return to the Oswego River in three and a half years to spawn

Another reason is to give both species a fighting chance. You see, when things were still in the theoretical stages, cormorants were eating the stockies almost as quickly as the DEC released them. Organizers hoped the pens would give the fish a measure of protection and a little time to get acquainted with their new surroundings.

The fish respond to the special treatment very favorably. "They don't want to leave when the gates are open and we have to coax them out," says Bresadola.

Sportsmen who are drawn to the ancient arts of hunting and fishing are fulfilling humankind's biological role as the natural world's greatest predator. The guys who participate in the pen rearing program go one step further and practice another strictly human gift: stewardship of natural resources. They do it selflessly and without fanfare.

But don't take my word for it. Instead, visit the Oswego Marina at 3 Basin Street, and check out the five pens bearing silent testimony to the patience and dedication the charter captains devote to nurturing Lake Ontario's future trophies.

DEC personnel preparing to fill the pens with salmonids

Pen being stocked

Steelhead coming out of the pipe

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