Friday, April 15, 2005

Alewives, Dam Removal in Stamford, Spawning on the Mianus

It’s not only alewife roe and testes that are good to eat, but the milt too – that is, the male reproductive glands filled with seminal fluid. This observation is courtesy of John Waldman, a biologist at Queens College whom I met for the first time on Wednesday. John left a comment to an earlier post:

Years ago when I worked on a vessel for the the Hudson River's Westway study we caught some ripe alewives and threw some roe and milt sacks into a frying pan in the galley. The roe was good, much like shad roe. But the milt was better, tasting very much like lobster.

I wonder if shad milt is as good? I’ve always heard there’s little market for buck shad. Maybe consumers would be interested in frying up a mess of male reproductive glands filled with seminal fluid, as a kind of poor man’s lobster?

I’m not sure if that would help or hurt the revival of interest in restoring the spring spawning runs of various fish. Stamford, for example, is renovating a park along the Mill River for $5.6 million. The renovation includes removal of a dam, which will allow anadromous fish to swim upstream for more than five miles, for the first time perhaps in centuries.

When it happens, the revival will complete the transformation of what was once one of Stamford’s most polluted sites. For years, factories along the lower Mill River simply dumped their waste into the river and mill pond. This was not unusual, of course – that was what rivers and the Sound were for in those days, and 4,000 Connecticut factories pretty much did the same thing.

The state Board of Health issued a report in the late 1800s that described a woolen mill in Stamford that washed its wool with water from the Mill River, discharging it “in a condition hard to describe. It carries with it a vast amount of grease and animal matter removed from the dirty wool, together with the alkalies and other chemical agents employed in the separation of the greasy impurities. Added to this are the waste dye-stuffs, acids, and other refuse products of manufacturing, the stream as it leaves the mill being dark and turbid, and offensive in every way.”

Milton Puryear, who is working on the Mill River park project for the Trust for Public Land, told me they expect to remove the dam next year.

Meanwhile in Greenwich, Denise Savageau, the town’s Conservation Director, wrote to me with more information about the Mianus spawning run:

Historically, the Mianus River supported a healthy, river herring migration. In 1926, a fifteen-foot dam was erected to provide fresh water for a power plant operated by the New Haven Railroad, creating a barrier to fish run. Following the dam construction, anecdotal stories by local fisherman describe large migrations of fish trapped each spring at the base of the dam. Many of the fish were harvested but the fisherman also manually transported some of the herring over the dam to continue to the run. Eventually, however, the numbers dwindled and the fish run was all but destroyed.

In 1993, the Town of Greenwich, working with Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection Fisheries Division, installed the present fish way. The fish way design includes a series of resting pools and runs that, due to site constraints, span over the Mianus River. The first year
of monitoring at the fish way was limited to the upper pool and exit into the pond. Results were discouraging. The next year, staff began to use the fish way as a ladder and accessed the middle and lower pools by walking on the fish way. This resulted in better monitoring that indicated that indeed the fish migration was using the ladder.

Monitoring now indicates that thousands of alewives and blueback herring use the fish way annually. Other species including the gizzard shard and American eel are also regularly found. The Mianus River fish way is the most western restored fish passage in Long Island Sound and part of the CT DEP Fish Restoration project. It is monitored throughout the year with a special emphasis on the time between late January until the end of the fish migration in June. All of the information is reported to DEP Fisheries including the start of the run that usually occurs in mid-March but has been recorded as early as late February.


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