Oak Orchard will raise 100k-plus salmon, 10k steelhead in pens for the next month

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 April 2021 at 10:42 am

Provided photos: There were 10,000 steelhead fingerlings put in two pens in the Oak Orchard River on Monday. Volunteers will feed them the next month and then the fish will be released. They will be bigger with a higher chance of surviving and returning to the Oak Orchard when they are mature.

CARLTON – More than 100,000 fingerling fish were delivered by the state Department of Environmental Conservation on Monday to the Oak Orchard River.

Those fish will be raised in pens and fed regularly by volunteers the next month. The fish will nearly double in size which will increase their chances for surviving when they are released into the river and when they go out to Lake Ontario.

They also are “imprinting” on the Oak Orchard, and will have a better chance of returning when they are mature in about 3 to 4 years, with the steelhead topping 10 pounds and some of the salmon 30 pounds or more.

Oak Orchard volunteers have been running the pen-rearing project since 1998. It was the first such effort on the south shore of the lake. Now there are many.

Fishing communities have seen how the projects pay off with a better fishery, with more mature fish that draw bring in anglers from outside the area to support local businesses.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation delivered 111,000 Chinook salmon on Monday to pens in the Oak Orchard River. The Oak Orchard in 1998 became the first community with a pen-rearing project on the southshore of Lake Ontario. Now there are several similar efforts.

The DEC delivered 111,000 Chinook salmon and 10,000 steelhead on Monday. They will be kept in pens at Ernst’s Lake Breeze Marina.

Ron Bierstine, owner of Orleans Outdoor, has been coordinating the steelhead pens since 2019. He said the effort has paid off with more mature steelhead in the Oak Orchard.

“This year the steelhead fishing in the river the returns look pretty good,” he said. “We hear a lot anecdotally.”

In 2022, there should be more 3-year returns from the steelhead in the pens in 2019.

“I’m real excited about next year,” Bierstine said this morning.

The volunteers feed the fish on a feeding schedule from the DEC. The DEC provides the food in little pellets.

Bierstine said the pen-rearing has become a community effort at the Oak Orchard.

“All major ports do it now, but it started here on the Oak Orchard,” he said.