Old Lyme family and old mill helping bring salmon back

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This week, volunteers are releasing thousand of tiny, young salmon into rivers and streams across Connecticut, and some come from an unlikely hatchery.

In the basement of the Tripp family’s home are trays holding tens of thousands of newly hatched salmon. The technical term for them is “fry”. You may have heard that there are plenty of fish in the sea, but there are not many salmon in Connecticut rivers.

“The last reports of wild salmon in Connecticut were about 1820,” said Bruce Williams, of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection‘s Inland Fisheries division.

In the early 19th century, people needed water power. A dam next to the Tripp family’s property in Old Lyme now has a way for fish to get around it, but for years, it was part of the problem.

“The dams started reducing the population because they couldn’t get to where they normally breed,” said Scot Tripp.

Now the dam is part of the solution. Water that used to power a mill flows into the Tripp’s basement anyway. They now filter it and send it into those salmon hatching trays. It’s a lot cheaper than pumping water and chemically treating it like big hatcheries do.

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“Especially if you have to do the coolers, which we don’t, because the water is a natural temperature, it’s the natural ingredients,” Trip explained. “All of that is good for the fish coming back.”

That is why the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection works with the Tripp family and this year gave them about 150,000 salmon eggs.

“And those eggs have been slowly developing over the past three and a half months,” Williams said.

Local students come by twice a week and clean the trays.

“We basically just been maintaining them and keeping them clean over the months so that all the fry don’t get bacteria left over and that none of the silt and stuff kill them prematurely,” explained Old Saybrook High School student Griffin Noack.

Once the fish hatch, however, they can’t stay in the trays. Once they’re divided up evenly, it’s time to head out to dozens of rivers and streams, like the Jeremy River in Colchester. Volunteers help scatter the fry in shallow water, then hope for the best.

Realistically, very few of the salmon fry they’re putting in the river today are actually going to make it to adulthood. They think about 20% will make it to September. The number that then go out into the Atlantic and come back to spawn in these rivers in a few years as adults, you’ll probably be able to count them on one hand.

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