NEW YORK (WWTI) — The Department of Environmental Conservation will be conducting a pen-rearing project to help increase salmon survival after they are stocked in Lake Champlain.

According to the DEC, this will be the second year of a five-year experimental Atlantic Salmon pen rearing project on the Saranac River Estuary. The project focuses on improving post-stocking survival for the species through the DEC’s partnership with the Plattsburgh Boat Basin, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Lake Champlain Chapter of Trout Unlimited, SUNY Plattsburgh, and Paul Smith’s College.

The project will compare two lots of approximately 26,000 salmon smolts, which are young salmon that are at the stage of development when they develop the silvery color of the adult and are ready to migrate to the sea.

The goal of the comparison is to evaluate the effectiveness of net pen rearing as a stocking method. Net pen rearing refers to when the fish are stocked in a net pen that’s enclosed in a greater water system, which in this case is the Saranac River Estuary.

One of the lots will be stocked into net pens in the Saranac River Estuary, pre-smolt, and held for approximately three weeks prior to release as smolts. The second lot will be directly stocked into the Saranac River Estuary at the same time as the net pen smolts are released, serving as a control.

A comparison of returns between the two stocking methods will determine if pen rearing results in greater survival and homing than conventional, direct stocking. DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos highlighted the importance of supporting the survival of the species.

“Atlantic salmon is a prized native fish and a critical component of the ecosystem of the Saranac River Estuary in Lake Champlain,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “With the ongoing support and commitment of our partners, DEC’s innovative pen rearing program is improving the salmon population and enhancing the potential for increased spawning, bolstering future opportunities for New York anglers.”

Sebago strain of landlocked Atlantic salmon smolts and fish food will be provided by the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Fish Hatchery. DEC will supply the net pens, transport the smolts and coordinate a volunteer program with the Lake Champlain Chapter of Trout Unlimited, SUNY Plattsburgh, and Paul Smith’s College to feed the salmon and monitor the fish until released.