The first efforts to maintain or even restore the declining Atlantic salmon population of Lake Ontario, one of the first species in Canada to be decimated by human activities, were made by Samuel Wilmot. In 1866 he established the first government-sponsored fish hatchery in North America in Newcastle, Ontario. His efforts seemed to initially pay off, as population increases were observed in many streams. However, the numbers fell again, and by 1881 observers were reporting very few fish. The species was officially declared extirpated in 1896, and the last reliable report of a harvested Atlantic salmon was in 1898.
Prior to extirpation, the popularity and success of Lake Ontario Atlantic salmon led to the stocking of it in two rivers in Maine to produce fisheries there. The Sheepscot River population still exists, albeit in very low numbers, and we hope to someday examine the genetics of this population to determine its relatedness to the historic Lake Ontario strain. The Cobscook River population is believed to be extinct or nearly extinct. Between 1877 and 1899 Lake Ontario Atlantic salmon were also shipped to England, but no evidence exists that populations of the strain remain there.
Additionally, the now-extirpated Sebago Lake, ME Atlantic salmon population is either the result of a direct stocking of fish from Lake Ontario, or derived subsequently from Lake Ontario stocks planted elsewhere. Interestingly, fish from eggs from Sebago Lake were successfully stocked in lakes in Argentina over the period 1904-1910, and it was hoped a final remnant of Lake Ontario’s population may have still existed in South America, but recent genetic analyses have found no relationship.
In Ontario, the next effort to restore Atlantic salmon was undertaken by the Department of Lands and Forests (MNRF’s predecessor) in the 1940’s using Miramichi, NB stock. After five years of stocking, mortalities were still significant from high summer stream temperatures and predation upon juvenile Atlantic salmon, and the attempt was stopped. Sporadic stocking occurred up until 1964 without success, and efforts were halted as the entire ecosystem was considered too degraded to make restoration likely. It was not until 1985 that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) again attempted to stock Atlantic salmon into Lake Ontario.