River herring migrate safely for first time in 70 years, volunteers plant 2,100 native plants
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Saturday, May 10, 2014
New Haven, Ct.—Save the Sound celebrated the completion of its fish passage on the Pequonnock River in Bridgeport with a volunteer plant-a-thon today. Senator Richard Blumenthal, CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo joined Save the Sound and the City of Bridgeport for a press conference before the planting.
“This fish passage finally undoes decades of harm to the fish population and Pequonnock ecosystem, enabling river herring to swim upstream to spawn. I applaud Save the Sound for their efforts here and throughout the state to preserve, protect and enhance our state’s beautiful waterways and its habitat,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal.
A concrete apron across the Pequonnock installed by the Department of Transportation in the 1950s inhibited fish migration on the river for nearly 70 years, forcing river herring to flop upstream through the shallow water on their sides and exposing them to predators. Save the Sound’s new fish passage mimics a natural river with deeper water and spots to rest, helping the fish to reach Bunnells Pond. There, a decade-old fish ladder lets them bypass the dam and access 33.4 acres of ideal spawning habitat.
“Before we installed this fishway, migrating river herring faced a gauntlet of death to get upstream—now they have safe passage,” said Curt Johnson, executive director of Save the Sound. “Similar dramas are being acted out on rivers all across Connecticut. Save the Sound has already re-opened access to almost 75 miles of river and we’re aiming for another 25 in the next three years. Others are hard at work, as well—it’s inspiring to be out here with everybody from senators to scientists to local kids, all committed to restoring the Pequonnock to health.”
Approximately 60 volunteers planted 2,100 native plants along the river today to filter runoff from nearby roads and provide habitat for wildlife. Organizations contributing volunteers included Beardsley Zoo Conservation Discovery Corps, Bridgeport Public Allies, BuildOn Bridgeport, Groundwork Bridgeport, National Charity League’s Fairfield chapter, and Park City Schools Alliance.
“The health of Long Island Sound and the Pequonnock River are so important to our community and our region,” said Mayor Bill Finch. “I bring my children almost every week to enjoy the beauty of Beardsley Park and Bunnells Pond. These are resources we all should admire and protect. I’m pleased that we’ve been able to partner with Save the Sound to keep our natural resources healthy for everyone to enjoy, and am grateful to our young people who are out here today contributing not only to their community but to the health of the Sound’s ecosystem.”
“As an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, conservation is a key program for Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo. Conservation takes on many roles, and for us, not only exotic animals but conservation in our own backyard is vitally important!” says Gregg Dancho, the zoo’s director. Beardsley Zoo is in the process of creating an educational exhibit that will let zoo visitors watch migrating fish via an underwater camera at Bunnells Pond. “The safe passage of these river herring is vital to the health and vigor of the Pequonnock River and all the many different species that call the river home. A healthy river equals a healthy Long Island Sound!”
River herring species such as alewives and blueback herring, which are candidates for Endangered Species listing, are a major food source for birds and larger fish. The fish travel between rivers and the ocean during their life cycle. A strong river herring population is therefore key to a healthy food chain for the entire Long Island Sound region, including the area’s rivers and the open Atlantic.
“The DEEP has been working for years to protect and restore runs of migratory fish,” said Steve Gephard, supervising fisheries biologist for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “In a state like Connecticut with over 4,000 dams, that often means we must build fishways. These can be complicated projects and the DEEP relies on partnerships with local and regional groups like Save the Sound to make them happen. The Pequonnock Fishway is the latest in a long list of fishways in our state yet very unique in its design. We look forward to celebrating its success with Save the Sound and the other partners.”
The Pequonnock River Apron Modification Project was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund, Long Island Sound Study, CT DEEP’s Supplemental Environmental Project Account, Restore America’s Estuaries, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Jeniam Foundation.
Save the Sound has installed a solar-powered, underwater fish camera and counter at the entrance to Bunnells Pond to count migrating fish. See the video feed at http://tinyurl.com/BunnellsFishCam.