Monday, April 3, 2017

Salmon in New Jersey

When you think of salmon, your first images may well be of that species jumping up a stream and some grizzly bears grabbing them for a meal. Or maybe your first thought is salmon is as a healthy meal. You probably don't associate them with New Jersey.

But New Jersey has salmon in some of its waters. They are not spawning in our streams. They are the hard-fighting landlocked salmon. This species is the lake-dwelling form of the Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar. Unlike the anadromous Atlantic salmon that is better known for its migration from saltwater to spawn in freshwater streams, the landlocked form is able to complete its entire life cycle in freshwater.

Landlocked salmon are native to eastern Canada and Maine, and have been successfully introduced to suitable waters outside their native range in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

The species was introduced in 2006 to two NJ lakes. The fish require deep lakes that have a suitable year round habitat for coldwater fish like trout and salmon. Salmon prefer water temperatures less than 70°F and dissolved oxygen levels greater than 5 mg/L, though they can withstand lesser water conditions for short periods.

Salmon were actually stocked in several NJ waters a half-century ago. In fact, the historical state record for landlocked salmon is an 8 pound fish caught from Lake Aeroflex back in 1951.

Atlantic Landlocked Salmon

The two lakes that were deemed suitable in 2006 are Wawayanda Lake and Lake Aeroflex.

Wawayanda Lake is located in Wawayanda State Park in northern Sussex County near Vernon. It has a maximum depth of 80 feet.

Lake Aeroflex (also known as New Wawayanda Lake) is in southern Sussex County (within Kittatinny Valley State Park) and has a maximum depth of 101 feet and is considered the deepest natural lake in our state.

Both lakes have suitable coldwater fish habitat year round and a forage base of alewives for the salmon to feed upon. The alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) is an anadromous species of herring found in North America. Like salmon, as an adult it is a marine species found in the northern West Atlantic Ocean, moving into estuaries before swimming upstream to breed in fresh water habitats. But like our landlocked salmon, some populations live entirely in fresh water.

Alewives actually "invaded" the Great Lakes via a canal and bypassed Niagara Falls and their population surged between the 1950s and 1980s. This caused a detrimental effect on native species of fish. Pacific salmon were introduced to the lakes to naturally control them.

Lake Aeroflex and its small neighbor, Gardner's Pond, are a part of the Pequest River headwaters in Sussex County and as such need adequate protection to ensure continued good water quality. There are no swimming beaches or campgrounds within the 2000-acre park.

Lake Aeroflex, as with many other NJ lakes, ponds and rivers, was created by glacial action. Those ancient glaciers receding dug deep holes that became these waterways. In hot summer days, the salmon, trout and other coldwater species will go deep into the lake bottom to find the coldest water.

Lake Aeroflex

Lake Aeroflex is a popular spot for those who enjoy paddle sports. Only electric and trolling motors are allowed. Fishermen will often fish from a kayak to get out to the depths where the most fish can be found. All fishermen at Lake Aeroflex are required to have a trout stamp in addition to a New Jersey fishing license and must observe all special fishing regulations. Certain periods of the year are catch-and-release only. The fish that survive the critical spring period are called 'hold-overs', and are then considered keepers if they meet size and creel limits.

The lake also holds bluegill, largemouth bass, chain pickerel and a variety of panfish. Two docks extend into the lake near the south end and can be used for fishing as well as casting from along the shore.

If you're not an angler, Lake Aeroflex and three other lakes within Kittatinny Valley State Park offer a quiet place to paddle and view scenery and wildlife. Gardner's Pond, Twin Lakes and White's Pond are popular with canoe and kayak users. The forest, meadows and wetlands around the shorelines offer foliage and wild turkey, whitetail deer, squirrel, beavers and muskrat and a variety of northern songbirds.

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