The Conn River Fish Count. disappoints fish and wildlife experts

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Fish passage in the Connecticut River has had a tough year as changing environmental conditions continue to impact their numbers and migration, according to biologists with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

“It’s disappointing,” said Kenneth Sprankle, project manager at the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Connecticut River Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office. “We would like to have more fish, certainly. It’s not unique to the Connecticut River.

Fish passage is the ability of fish or other aquatic species to move between and within waterways during different life stages to reproduce, feed and contribute to their ecosystems, according to the US Fish. and Wildlife Service.

According to the June 27 report, which Sprankle recently presented to members of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission (CRASC), approximately 190,000 American shad passed through the Holyoke Fish Lift and 23,000 passed through the Gatehouse Scale. at Turners Falls (as of June 1). For reference, Sprankle said the federal agency has a target of 700,000 in Holyoke and 400,000 in Turners Falls.

Fish species being restored to the Connecticut River basin include American shad, blueback herring, sea lamprey, American eel, and gaspereau.

Sprankle said the population goal, for American shad, for example, would be 1.7 million adults at the mouth of the river.

“It allows us to have goals at each of the play-offs,” he said.

The fish passage season can be greatly affected by water temperature and river flow conditions, Sprankle explained. Climate change has also had an impact on several fish populations, including Atlantic salmon.

“We do all of these things, and what’s frustrating and difficult is that nothing stays the same,” he said. “For example, with climate change, as we collect data, the very data we collect becomes stale in a relatively short period of time.”

In addition to landscape changes resulting from land clearing and erosion, structures such as dams and culverts, which have arisen along waterways in recent decades, have also impacted access. fish to spawning and nursery habitats. As a result, targets for the number of fish passages have been adjusted to reflect what conservationists consider “more realistic” than what was agreed upon in the 1960s when state agencies began to working together to restore migratory fish in the Connecticut River.

In response to community criticism that the turbine at FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, which is in the midst of the license renewal process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), has played a significant role in the decline of the fish population, Sprankle said the fish pass systems in place were built in the 1980s and based on West Coast designs that have been scaled down.

“When that happened, it really changed some of the dynamics of water flow in those fishways,” he said. “We will be able to change that.”

He added that the challenge on the Connecticut River is that license renewal schedules don’t follow the same timelines.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he said, has fish passage engineering criteria that will need to be met.

“We have recommendations on things like water speed, size of buckets that move fish, how much water is needed for fish to find fishway entrances,” he said. declared. “It was all developed through trial and error. … The power companies, the engineers they hire, will use it, and we make sure they meet those criteria.

Sprankle said when looking at fish numbers for a particular year, he also looks at “stock structure,” or in other words, the age of the fish, as an important marker of success. Often the number of fish in a year can be explained by poor or successful spawning in previous years.

“It shows the resilience of stocks,” he said. “If you have any fish coming back, they’ll come back and spawn again.”

Journalist Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne

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