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Salmon reach Winooski's fish lift in record numbers

A fish with silver metallic scales and a hooked jaw is held by someone wearing white gloves made of cloth, and a green rain jacket.
Courtesy of Vermont Fish & Wildlife
So far, 190 salmon have reached a hydroelectric dam on the Winooski River. That breaks a record set in 2011. And more fish might still swim upstream this year.

Right now, landlocked Atlantic salmon in Lake Champlain are swimming up rivers and streams to spawn.

Many go as far as the base of a hydrodam in Winooski. Then, the salmon get lifted up in a bucket. They're put in a tank, then a truck, where biologists will ferry them past several more dams until they’re released further upstream at a tributary in Richmond, where they might be able to reproduce.

Almost all of those fish were bred at a hatchery — there’s not much wild salmon reproduction in Vermont, says state fisheries biologist Lee Simard. But the eggs were released in Richmond. And this time of year, the fish are trying to get back to where they were born, to spawn.

"They’re following different cues within the water — effectively smelling their way back to where they were stocked, to try to find that location where, in their mind, there is suitable spawning available," Simard said.

A fish
Courtesy of Vermont Fish & Wildlife
A fish gets a ride in the hopper at the hydroelectric dam in Winooski in 2022. Several fish that biologists tagged then have been seen again this year.

And biologists have counted a record number of salmon at the Winooski One Hydro Plant this year, since the dam starting operating a fish lift 30 years ago.

Simard says salmon in Lake Champlain are doing well in large part thanks to management of a long, skinny fish that feeds on them: sea lamprey. Last year, biologists saw fewer wounds on salmon and lake trout than ever before.

"The wounds will appear as this circular opening on the side, which can also kill the fish if they’re attacked enough times," Simard said. "So the fact that we’re seeing more fish returning is likely an indication that there are fewer sea lamprey out in the lake."

As of early this week, 190 salmon had reached the dam this year, and migration could continue for several more weeks.

"The fish look great this year," Simard said. "They're big and healthy, and would be a great fish to have on the end of your line."

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or reach out to reporter Lexi Krupp:


Lexi covers science and health stories for Vermont Public.
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