Giving Atlantic salmon a headstart back into Lake Ontario

The world’s largest population of freshwater salmon was historically found in Lake Ontario. Loss of spawning habitat, prey species and overfishing contributed to the extinction of the Atlantic salmon locally.

The USGS Tunison Aquatic Laboratory scientists are changing that by raising and releasing over 100,000 Atlantic salmon annually since 2011 into Lake Ontario and tributaries. With improved spawning habitat and restoration of lake herring, preferred prey of salmon, the future looks bright.

Four Seneca Park crew and Zoo staff assisted USGS with marking 8,000 three-inch baby salmon by clipping a vestigial fin, called the adipose fin, from each fish. After administering an anesthetic in the water, the tiny fin is removed with a pair of surgical scissors.

This permanent identification allows fish biologists in the future to distinguish adult stocked from naturally spawned salmon. By restoring native fish species back to Lake Ontario we are returning a natural balance to the food web and ecosystem.

– Dr. Jeff Wyatt, Director of Animal Health and Conservation

Sturgeon are thriving in the Mighty Genesee!

Photos by Dawn Dittman
Photos by Dawn Dittman

SturgeonJuly’s Genesee River netting survey of 3,000 lake sturgeon (reintroduced as nursery reared, four-inch fry in 2003. 2004 and 2013 by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Tunison Lab biologist Dr. Dawn Dittman assisted by Zoo staff) continues to tell a tremendous success story!

The sturgeon, a fish with a long history in the Genesee River, all but disappeared due to overfishing, pollution and habitat loss 100 years ago. Seneca Park Zoo 2014 Aab Pre-Vet fellow Ashlee Melhado and a USGS team spent a beautiful day on the Genesee studying the one to eleven year old fish .

After taking measurements (plus photos of course!) and placing a yellow fin tag with a USGS phone number and unique code, the fish were returned back to the Genesee where it flows adjacent to the Zoo. All sturgeon bioindicators show that the Genesee River is a healthy nursery for sturgeon to thrive. As teenagers, these contemporaries of the dinosaurs leave the Genesee for the next 85 to 150 years to live in Lake Ontario, only returning to the lower Genesee to spawn every 3 to 5 years.

Our science programs saving this species will certainly span several careers of budding zoo and aquatic biologists!

– Dr. Jeff Wyatt. Director of Animal Health & Conservation

Published July 2014

Science saving native Irondequoit Bay and Lake Ontario fish

Ashlee Melhado (the Zoo’s 2014 Aab Pre-Vet Fellow) joined United States Geological Survey (USGS) biologists at USGS Tunison Aquatic Laboratory in Cortland, NY marking 20,000 lake herring fry (1 to 2 inches long) for future identification and tracking after release this fall.

The lake herring, a once abundant community native fish, had all but disappeared in Lake Ontario due to invasive species such as alewife and rainbow smelt. With invasive fish populations back in check, it’s time to repopulate our waterways with native species.

The marking system involved bathing the fish for four minutes in a harmless bone-binding drug which promotes a glow-in-the-dark appearance to the fish skeleton only when viewed under a special ultraviolet light. The 9,000 lake herring released in Irondequoit Bay in November 2013 will be joined by a similar number of labeled fish to be released this fall. Today’s new marking technology will help us monitor sustainable populations of reintroduced fish for years to come.

Welcome back home – our lake herring native!

– Dr. Jeff Wyatt, Director of Animal Health & Conservation