Niagara Gazette

November 3, 2013

HILTS: Lake Ontario stakeholders push Caledonia for salmon

By Bill Hilts Jr.
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A fight could be brewing if some Lake Ontario stakeholders have their way involving the use of the Caledonia fish hatchery for rearing king salmon... again.

The Lake Ontario Sportfishing Stakeholders Coalition reunited to discuss some important business earlier this week when a dozen concerned members located in the Western Basin of the lake began initiating a serious conversation on using the Western New York hatchery south of Rochester.

“We keep receiving excuse after excuse when we ask for the Caledonia fish hatchery to come on line again for salmon,” said Capt. Bob Songin of Rochester, who operates a successful charter business each year out of Wilson and Oak Orchard. “Right now, all our eggs are literally in one basket.”

Songin was referring to the fact that all of the eggs for Lake Ontario Pacific salmon are reared at the Salmon River Fish Hatchery in Altmar, located on the Salmon River in the Eastern Basin of the lake. Pre-VHS disease, Caledonia was used to rear Pacific salmon. When that happened, the quality of the fish was excellent and most of the planting sites received better runs of fish when they matured. Just as important is the fact that staging fish off the creek and river mouths were more sustained and created a bigger impact. They lasted longer.

“We want to be able to reduce the risk of a hatchery disaster,” said Songin. “VHS disease is commonly referred to by the Department of Environmental Conservation as a roadblock for transferring eggs or fish. I’ve been able to prove that a fish from Lake Erie – a body of water that is already VHS positive – could make it to Caledonia via the Erie Canal, Genesee River, Oatka Creek and Spring Creek, where the hatchery is located. In addition, the DEC is already moving fish from hatchery to hatchery every year, such as moving trout from Randolph to Caledonia and eggs from Randolph to Rome.”

At the Salmon River Fish Hatchery, serious water issues continue to exist. According to Songin’s collected information, the DEC has not received its target level for king salmon three of the last five years. Low water levels, poor egg take and poor eye-up of the eggs are all cited as reasons for the reduced numbers. Those water issues have not yet been resolved, even though over $2 million in expenditures have been earmarked for helping to correct the problem – thanks to an influx of cash from the Occidental Chemical Natural Resources Damages claim that was approved back in 2006.

It’s important to note that even though the cash was in the bank for the Occidental settlement (over $12 million that was only to be spent on Lake Ontario Sportfishing projects and programs) by 2011, only $300,000 has been spent on the Salmon River facility to try and correct those water problems. The only significant accomplishment to date is one well that produces 200 gallons per minute. The finger keeps being pointed to a higher authority when it comes to actually expending the money – the state simply won’t let them. Again, the money is in the bank.

Songin could also see additional benefits by using Caledonia for some of the salmon rearing. The fact that the Salmon River has been hampered with water issues with limited space could very well allow less salmon in the raceways and help to improve the quality of the product coming out of the hatchery for pen rearing projects and for direct stocking into Lake Ontario. It would put less stress on the fish when transporting them for stocking purposes by cutting down the duration of the stocking drive. It should also help with timing of stocks for fish plants – an issue the last couple of years for pen rearing efforts. Last year, salmon were received so late that they had a very limited amount of time in the pens. This defeats the purpose of the program – both fish survival rates and imprinting to local waters.

This is a perfect segue into a recent letter from the Conservation Fund Advisory Board to Governor Cuomo asking for hatchery funding for all of the hatcheries. In the letter, it asks for $6.7 million in cash to fund a backlog of Capital improvements to the state’s hatchery system – including Caledonia, which will be in the spotlight in 2014 when it celebrates its 150th anniversary as the first fish hatchery in the country. If the governor is serious about his NY Open for Hunting and Fishing initiative, he will need to give this serious consideration. In 2013, a Capital expenditure of $1 million was approved but only $360,000 was spent so far on the entire hatchery system. Remember that this can’t include the money earmarked for Salmon River because that’s dedicated funds from the Occidental NRD settlement. We’ll keep you posted.

Big Ransomville buck reported

Pat Nowak Jr. of Ransomville connected with the biggest whitetail of his life when he scored on a 180-pound, 13-point monster while hunting from a favorite tree stand near home last Saturday. Hunting in some terrible weather conditions, it didn’t deter him from being in the stand around 5 p.m. when he noticed two hot does in the area. That was when he spotted two bucks, including a 4-point that the big guy danced around with in circles looking for the does. In addition, Nowak was using some Hot Scrape buck scent placed in the armrest of his tree to help provide enticement.

The buck moved within 30 yards of his stand and the arrow found its mark. The green score on the antlers is almost 160 inches with an inside spread of 17 inches and tines as tall as 10-1/4 inches long. Jim Block at “Buck Stops Here Taxidermy” in Pendleton will be doing the mounting.

Another noteworthy buck was a dandy 8-pointer taken from Pembroke by Jim Wowzynski of Wheatfield. Hunting with Jim Carroll, also of Wheatfield, he used a young buck grunt call to entice the biggest deer of his life into shooting range. One shot from his Hoyt bow, using muzzy blades and full metal jacket carbon arrows, was all it took at 20 yards. The buck dressed out at 170 pounds.

Great waterfowl opener

After getting blown out on Saturday with high winds and rain (yes, we chickened out), we decided to group up for our “opening day” ritual a day late on Sunday morning in the Town of Lockport. The group was led by John Van Hoff of North Tonawanda and Bob Lods of Cheektowaga. It also included Kevin Gunther of Niagara Falls; Paul Laubacker of Lockport; Paul Sawicki of Angola; and me. Thanks to very muddy conditions, we had to use a four wheeler to get all our equipment back into the field. We met at 5:30 a.m. and set up shop with over 100 decoys – primarily full bodied geese.

It started around 7:30 a.m. with a flock of ducks, pintails that were surprised by a corn field filled with shotguns and hunters. Mallards were next. Then it was a combination of mallards and Canada geese. Within two hours, we had our limit of 30 geese and a dozen ducks to show for our efforts. It took us longer to set up and tear down than the actual hunt, but it was worth it.

Thanks to come great calling by Van Hoff and Lods, in addition to a super layout set of decoys, we were able to pull birds in from far off. This was our opening day contribution to controlling the nuisance population of geese — at least for most of us. Lods couldn’t sit at home no matter how bad the weather for the Saturday opener so he headed over to Iroquois to try and get a blind, hoping someone wouldn’t make it. He received the last blind available and managed to have some of his best refuge shooting ever, collecting eight mallards and four pintails before he called it a day. What’s a little rain and wind?


Just a reminder that from this past Friday through May 1, all persons aboard a pleasure vessel less than 21 feet regardless of age must wear a Personal Flotation Device while underway. ... The NYS Rifle and Pistol Association just received a bill from the Albany Police Department for the big rally against the SAFE Act – bus parking in West Capital Park for 180 buses. The final tally was $11,700. Really? ... Speaking of the SAFE Act, it looks like the provision involving background checks for any ammunition purchases starting January 15, 2014 will be delayed indefinitely. The reason is that the State Police currently have no system to handle the new set of background checks. The reality is that it may never be a viable law because of complications like that. ... And while we’re on the subject of the SAFE Act, remember that in future elections. ... Gov. Cuomo signed legislation that will make boar hunting in the state illegal by 2015. At least it will prohibit the sale, transfer and importation in New York by September 1, 2015, but it does give DEC the authority to get rid the state of existing populations as well. ... Rumors are starting to fly around that other Lake Erie states are worried about perch numbers and that they are talking about reducing limits to 30 per person. No talk in New York yet. Until next time!

Bill Hilts Jr. is an outdoor writer with the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation. Contact him at

Monday • LaSalle Sportsmen's Club, 2445 Tuscarora Rd., Niagara Falls, will hold its monthly general membership meeting starting at 7 p.m. • North Forest Rod & Gun Club, 6257 Old Niagara Road, Lockport, will hold its monthly general membership meeting starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday • Election Day, get out and vote! Wednesday • Kayak and Canoe Safety and Rescue Clinic at Williamsville South High School. Preregistration is required. Fee is involved. This is a three week class, with parts 2-3 on Nov. 13 and Dec. 4. Call Paths, Peaks and Paddles at 213-0350. Thursday • Tonawandas Sportsmen's Club general membership meeting starting at 8 p.m. at, 5657 Killian Road, Pendleton. • Jim Carr NYS Pistol Permit Class at 6 p.m. at Freeman's Sport Shop, Akron. You must be preregistered by calling 778-9431. You can all that same number for additional information. Saturday • Gorge at low water hike out of Whirlpool State Park, in case you missed last week's hike. The hike will take place from 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. For information and registration, call 282-5154. • North Forest Ladies Shoot and Hoot program at 2 p.m. at North Forest Rod and Gun Club, 6257 Old Niagara Road, Lockport. You must preregister by calling Colleen Gaskill at 439-1464. • Axe in Hand: A discussion of Land Ethic. This talk will take place at Reistein Woods by naturalist intern Ben Carpenter starting at 1 p.m. • Final day, snipe, rails and gallinules season. Nov. 10 • Bond Lake hike and Thanksgiving Dinner starting at 11 a.m. at the Ransomville location on Lower Mountain Road. You must be preregistered by Wednesday to participate. Contact Christine at Paths, Peaks and Paddles at 213-0350.