By nicole A. hawley Staff writer

MCCONNELLSVILLE — Harden Furniture and members of the Fish Creek Atlantic Salmon Club should soon be the proud parents of thousands of Atlantic Salmon hatchlings.

In an effort to help re-introduce Atlantic Salmon to central New York waterways, the historic furniture manufacturer and salmon club have formed a partnership to host a test hatchery for 5,000 eggs.

Greg Harden, CEO, said the eggs are now in a 500-gallon stainless steel tank located right below the company’s dam.

"The eggs are in the tank right now," Harden said. "We had to wait for the water temperature to get cold because it holds more oxygen" for the eggs.

The eggs "are fed every day by members of the Fish Creek Atlantic Salmon Club and will be released in April" after they hatch, he said. "At that point the salmon will be in the wild and work their way through the Gulf Stream up near Greenland and Iceland. Then they will eventually grow to be 20 to 24-inch long Atlantic Salmon and will hopefully migrate back here to spawn."

Unlike Pacific Salmon who die after they spawn, Atlantic Salmon will remain in the stream. Some may even reach the age of 11-years-old, said Fish Creek Atlantic Salmon Club President Tom Schneider.

Harden said there are between 5,000 and 6,000 eggs in the tank, but that a large percent of salmon may not get to journey back to McConnellsville once they are released. Several will be eaten by other fish or just not survive the trip, he said.

By early in the last century, the Atlantic Salmon population had largely disappeared from streams in New York due to overfishing, dam construction and pollution.

"Tom Schneider, (president) with the Fish Creek Salmon Club, approached us and told us about the salmon caught here in McConnellsville...so we were more than anxious to help," Harden said.

Schneider said he first went to Harden to approach them about donating an item toward a raffle his club was holding to raise money for a new fish hatchery. He later decided to ask Harden if the company would actually host a hatchery.

Harden said the Fish Creek Atlantic Salmon Club and state Department of Environmental Conservation officials have tested the waters of Fish Creek and the location of the dam at Harden Furniture and found that it’s a good habitat for the salmon to flourish. Wildlife experts say that the small dam that has supplied power to the factory throughout its long history is not high enough to impede the migration of adult Atlantic Salmon returning to spawn. Harden Furniture has operated along Fish Creek since 1844.

If Harden’s test hatchery is successful, the company has already committed to housing an even larger, permanent hatchery with a capacity of up to 100,000 eggs, Schneider said.

Once established, the Atlantic Salmon are expected to once again embark on a remarkable cycle of journeying hundreds of miles into the Atlantic before returning to their birth site to spawn after two years.

Harden said the partnership with the Fish Creek Atlantic Salmon Club was an exciting opportunity for the company to build upon their commitment to the environment. The club formed in 1997 to restore and reintroduce Atlantic Salmon and brook trout to Fish Creek and the Oswego River system.

"The Harden family is very committed to the people of Camden and to efforts that support the environment," Schneider said.

The Fish Creek Atlantic Salmon Club, in cooperation with wildlife officials, will closely monitor the progress of the Atlantic Salmon released this spring. Schneider said young hatchlings will begin on a diet of frozen blood worms and will graduate to a granular-size fish food commonly used at hatcheries as they mature.

Once the fry are released and grow to maturity in the waters around McConnellsville, the Atlantic Salmon will begin a two-year migration to the ocean and as far away as the warm Gulf Stream waters off Greenland and Iceland before returning as adults up to two feet long to spawn in Fish Creek.