Two years ago, kayak fisherman Pierre Champion fought a mysterious fish while fishing in Pelham Bay. When he hooked it next so some sunken blocks on a white grub, it didn’t act like the stripers or the bluefish he was used to. Weakfish maybe? But then it’s blue shadow showed through the water and Pierre scooped this mysterious trout looking fish into his boat. Pierre, who had caught salmon before, was shocked at what he was looking at.
“That looks like a trout! WTF is this?” he writes in his original blog post. He was unsure whether or not the fish was an Atlantic salmon or a steelhead, both of which used to be plentiful in the Northeast until overfishing, pollution, and dams practically wiped them out. Now, it is rare for anyone to catch an Atlantic salmon anywhere south of Maine – and even there it’s still uncommon. Unlike their Pacific cousins, Atlantic salmon do not die after they spawn and make multiple journeys upriver to spawn throughout their lives.
The fish, which was unfortunately hooked through the gills and unable to be revived, was sent to the Department of Environmental Conservation for analysis. Here is what their response to Pierre said:
“First, we got the opinion of Connecticut’s salmon expert and he agrees with you. His response: “This is definitely an Atlantic salmon. Moreover, I do not believe that it is a hatchery fish—one of the broodstock that we stock into the Shetucket and Naugatuck rivers as part of the broodstock trophy fishery. I believe this to be a wild, post-spawned Atlantic salmon departing the Connecticut River, not entering it. I suspect that it entered the river last year, spawned, and was late to depart back to the ocean as a kelt due to the absence of a spring freshet. The fish is very skinny and not fully reconditioned as we would expect a bright incoming sea-return fish to have done. You can see that it is mostly head. It may have gotten lost in Long Island Sound and begun feeding and partially reconditioned.
Now the bad news. Atlantic salmon are an endangered species and you are prohibited by law to take or possess them. We know it was not intentional, and that the fish died because of bleeding. If you still have the fish or any parts of it, I’d ask that you please surrender it to DEC and we’ll send it to Connecticut for analysis. I can make arrangements to have it picked up by Law Enforcement. We will not file any charges.“
Unfortunately, the salmon could not be released, but the fact that it was caught as far south as New York City in the first place is a testament to the resilience of salmon on the whole. Pierre’s story gives hope that maybe, if given a fighting chance, the Atlantic salmon population might be able to recover in the Northeast.