Improving fish habitat one dam at a time

Two men shake hands and hold an award.
I'm Bethany Holbrook, and I work at our New York Field Office. You'll be hearing from me every week! Stay tuned for tales from the great state of New York. USFWS photo with Bethany holding a bog turtle

I’m Bethany Holbrook, and I work at our New York Field Office. You’ll be hearing from me every week! Stay tuned for tales from the great state of New York.

If you enjoy fishing in the St. Lawrence River, you can thank Stephen Patch, Senior Fish and Wildlife Biologist at the New York Field Office, for his contributions to fisheries conservation.

Steve recently received the New York State Council of Trout Unlimited’s Professional Resource Award for his outstanding work in ensuring that dam operators and power producers meet rigid standards regarding water flows, fish protection and other issues affecting fish habitat and propagation.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requires dam licenses to be reviewed every 30 to 50 years.  During relicensing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducts environmental reviews and suggests conditions or approaches a company must make to improve fish and wildlife habitat.  Steve has played a major role in many hydroelectric project relicensings in New York, all of which have received new licenses that improve the general ecology of the stream.

Three men pose with an award

Trout Unlimited NY Chapter President, Rob Urban (left) and Region 5 Chairman and Hydro Coordinator, Bill Wellman (right), presents Steve Patch with his award at a general meeting in Cold Brook, NY.

  • St. Lawrence-FDR Power Project on the St. Lawrence River
    • Goal: Address the issue of downstream eel passage on the St. Lawrence River
    • Action: Steve helped create the Eel Passage Research Center, which will develop measures to help guide eel and collect them for passage or transport downstream around the two large dams on the river (the Moses-Saunders Dam and the Beauharnois Dam).  He was also instrumental in developing the $24 million Fish Enhancement, Mitigation, and Research Fund (FEMRF) to benefit multiple fish species, including eel.
    • Result: This 5-year, $3.5 million project will benefit American eel and European eel populations on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  The FEMRF money has helped fund some of the eel work and improve habitat for species such as northern pike, walleye and lake sturgeon.

      Eels climb a green eel ladder to an orange trough at the top

      An eel ladder on the Moses-Saunders Dam allows eels to climb to the top, and out to the other side of the dam through a series of pipes.

  • Hogansburg dam removal
    • Goal: Remove the Hogansburg dam
    • Action: Steve helped initiate decommissioning negotiations between Brookfield Power and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe for the purpose of dam removal.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing process is complex, so Steve is working with Brookfield Power, the tribe and other partners to find a workable solution for dam removal.
    • Result: Once negotiations are complete, dam removal will open up several hundred miles of mainstem and tributary habitat to a variety of fish species, including American eel, Atlantic salmon and lake sturgeon.
  • Relicensing Settlements  
    • Goal: Create settlements that will improve current and future hydroelectric projects
    • Action: Steve has helped with settlements on the St. Lawrence, Black, Beaver, Oswegatchie, Raquette, St. Regis, Saranac, Hoosic, Sacandaga, Hudson and Oswego Rivers. 
    • Results: (1.) The settlements have created hundreds of miles of new or improved aquatic habitat, allowing fish to safely pass many dams.  (2.) Established a baseline of measures that most hydro developers now strive to include in all new licenses and new project proposals.
Two men shake hands and hold an award.

“Fish and fishermen in every part of New York can be grateful to Steve Patch for his dedication and talent in protecting one of our most fragile natural resources,” said Ron Urban, Chairman of the New York State Council of Trout Unlimited.

So the next time you go fishing or visit a waterway, think about all of the conservation work done to protect such an important ecosystem!

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