It’s one of New Jersey’s more unique interstate partnerships: Every year, the Garden State trades fish with Massachusetts.
Since 2006, New Jersey has sent young northern pike to Massachusetts to be stocked in waters around the New England state. In exchange, Massachusetts sends young landlocked salmon south to be stocked in North Jersey lakes.
Now, the program is expanding.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection announced on Thursday that it has been stocking landlocked salmon in Warren County’s Merrill Creek Reservoir, marking the fourth body of water in New Jersey to receive the fish.
“We are extremely pleased to continue expanding this program as it grows in popularity,” said NJDEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe. “Catching one of these beautiful and hard-fighting fish is surely the thrill of a lifetime.”
When the program began, the state stocked the salmon in two Sussex County locations: Wawayanda State Park’s Lake Wawayanda and Kittatinny Valley State Park’s Lake Aeroflex. The program spread to Morris County in 2014, when salmon stocking began in Allamuchy State Park’s Tilcon Lake.
Throughout the fall, the state Division of Fish and Wildlife said it has stocked more than 2,500 salmon across the four lakes.
Landlocked salmon are native to Eastern Canada and Maine. Besides New Jersey, the fish have been successfully introduced to Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. They are strong fish, tough that are notoriously tough to catch.
Before the state stocking began, New Jersey did have limited exposure to landlocked salmon. The fish were privately stocked in the Garden State in the 1950s.
“It’s a great thing for sportsmen and freshwater fishermen in the state,” said Cody McLaughlin, a spokesman for the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance. McLaughlin added that the salmon program is popular among New Jersey’s anglers because it makes it possible for them to fish for a sought-after species without having to travel out of state.
The landlocked salmon are hatched by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, which breeds the salmon for in-state stocking before sending some of the surplus young fish to New Jersey. Once in the Garden State, the salmon are raised at the Hackettstown Fish Hatchery until they’re large enough to be stocked. New Jersey returns the favor by sending young northern pike to Massachusetts.
“This relationship has paid great dividends for anglers in both states,” said N.J. Division of Fish and Wildlife Director Larry Herrighty.
Space for raising more salmon at the Hackettstown hatchery opened up when it was determined that lake trout had successfully been reproducing in Merrill Creek Reservoir, thus lessening the need to raise lake trout.
Landlocked salmon are native to Eastern Canada and Maine. Besides New Jersey, the fish have been successfully introduced to Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.
To survive year-round in New Jersey, the state Division of Fish and Wildlife says the salmon need deep cold lakes that hold oxygen well and protect them from the stress of summer heat. Ample amounts of prey in the lakes are also needed to support the salmon.
The Merrill Creek Reservoir and the other three lakes in the program provide the perfect environment for salmon, according to the state.
Anglers age 16 or older who want to fish for salmon must obtain a fishing license and trout stamp. Children under 16 and New Jersey residents 70 years and older can fish for free.
The New Jersey state record for a land-locked salmon is held by Runelvy Rodriguez of Northvale, who landed a 8-pound, 5-ounce salmon on Lake Aeroflex on June 2.