Tag Archives: atlantic salmon

White River National Fish Hatchery Returns with a New Mission

The White River National Fish Hatchery in Bethel, Vermont, was buzzing with life on a muggy Friday in July as over 80 community members, employees and state and federal officials gathered beneath an outdoor tent to celebrate the facility’s reopening.

The celebration was appropriate, considering the hatchery’s recent history. Originally commissioned in 1984, White River was an important part of an effort to breed Atlantic salmon for the Connecticut River and its tributaries, as well as lake trout for Lakes Erie and Ontario. However, it was flooded in August 2011 during Tropical Storm Irene, causing massive damage to both the hatchery and the community of Bethel. The facility has been under renovation since. The devastation was described in posters hung around the back of the seating area Friday; visitors mulled around and took in the images.

Rising rivers. Washed out roads and bridges. Houses sloshed from their foundations. For many in Vermont, Irene’s pass through the state seemed to herald ruin without end, as the storm raked through homes and communities with some of the worst rain and floodwaters seen in the state since 1927.

Will Olmstead, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological science technician at the hatchery, remembers that his commute to work that day – usually a quick half hour haul – took four hours of detours through muddy fields and back roads to get to the hatchery. When he arrived, the sight was unlike anything he had seen before.

“The river was raging pretty good, said Olmstead. “It was full of debris, stuff floating by.”

The White River had flooded, carving out huge portions of its banks and depositing silt and mud all over the hatchery grounds. Fish were swept from their tanks, the electrical system was knocked out, and although a few dedicated Service workers tried to save equipment by moving it to higher ground, the facility was almost completely waterlogged by the storm’s end.

“There were dead fish everywhere,” said Olmstead. “The stench was pretty bad.”

The hatchery seemed finished; down the road, the community was in equally dire straits, with parts of its main road, Route 107, cracked and washed away in the deluge.

But the Service and Vermont have something in common: they don’t give up easily. As the town was being repaired and the roads repaved, proposals were made to restore the facility to its full capacity, but this time with a slightly different task in mind.

Wendi Weber speaks at White River NFH

“After the flood, not only did we face the enormous challenge of rebuilding, but we also knew the hatchery needed a new mission,” said Wendi Weber, the Service’s regional director for the northeast. “We knew that this facility could provide support to our partners throughout Vermont and surrounding states to restore fish and support local economies.”

That new mission is to raise a new brood stock (adult fish that provide eggs) for the restoration of landlocked Atlantic salmon in the Lake Champlain Basin; produce lake trout for the lower Great Lakes and as a back-up for Vermont and support critical applied research to improve our effectiveness. Service staff at White River have been raising fish since last fall, anxious to get a jump-start on the process.

“It’s important to keep native species whole,” said Henry Bouchard, the hatchery manager, adding that the Service’s collaborative stocking efforts in New York and Vermont are a major help in making fish species more resilient. One recent sign of success is the first documented natural salmon reproduction last year in two tributaries to Lake Champlain (the Winooski River in Vermont and the Boquet River in New York) in over 150 years.

In the five years following Tropical Storm Irene, USFWS, state and local government and numerous NGO partners worked together to invest over $2 million in repairing the hatchery. Meanwhile, Olmstead, along with several of the other Service workers at the White River hatchery, continued his work with the remaining fish stocks at the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Fish Hatchery in North Chittenden, Vermont 45 minutes west of Bethel.

In his remarks at the reopening, Senator Patrick Leahy – who also attended the hatchery’s first opening in 1984 – praised the hatchery workers for their resilience, calling them “some of the most dedicated professionals I have met in my life.”

“This is a story of heroics,” he added. “I wonder anywhere else you would see such dedication?”

Members of the community, who like the hatchery were forced to weather Hurricane Irene, were also proud to see the facility reopen.

“To me, this is a red letter day,” said Eric Darnell of Stafford, Vermont. “It’s a true testament to local, state and federal [government] working together for a common cause.”

It took several years to get the station running again, but good things come to those who wait. The hatchery will now play an important role in helping trout and salmon rebound in the region.

“This hatchery is really a symbol of resilience, it’s a symbol of the future, it’s a symbol of respect for nature,” said Congressman Welch. “We have to play a positive role in sustaining it.”

Learn more about Atlantic salmon in this five-part series that follows its journey upstream to spawn in a tributary of Lake Champlain.

Bye-bye Bottlenecks: Ensuring Safe Passage for Salmon in Maine

By Lauri Munroe-Hultman

Don’t you hate it when you’re cruising along the Interstate and “Lane Closed Ahead” signs start popping up? Soon, a sea of brake lights appears, and traffic slows to a crawl, as cars squeeze through the narrowed roadway. Suddenly, getting where you want to go is much more difficult.

Perhaps this is how an Atlantic salmon feels when, making its way upstream to spawn, the waterway funnels to a small opening under a road. Its journey, one programmed into its DNA and necessary for the survival of the species, becomes many times harder than expected, if not impossible.

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Undersized culverts like this one on a tributary to the Upper Sandy River in Phillips, Maine, hinder upstream migration of fish such as Atlantic salmon and Eastern brook trout and cause road washouts. Credit: USFWS

Maine’s aging roadways are littered with undersized culverts that prevent safe passage of fish and other animals and cause costly washouts during storms. Thanks to a recent grant from the Federal government, however, many outdated culverts will be replaced with wider archways that allow water and wildlife to pass more easily.

In December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) awarded $6 million to replace several hundred undersized culverts on private forestland in northern and eastern Maine and restore about 250 miles of waterway. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is one of the principal partners in the five-year Maine Aquatic Connectivity Restoration Project that involves large forestland owners, tribal nations, conservation groups and local operators.

The project is the nation’s top-ranked funding agreement through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) administered by NRCS. It’s one of 88 high-impact projects across the country that will receive $225 million in Federal funding.

The Service worked with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to set restoration priorities and draft the project proposal. The agency will contribute more than $1.3 million, and staff will help with surveys and assessments, engineering and conceptual designs, environmental compliance, fish removal, project management and monitoring activities.

In addition to the Service and TNC, project partners include Project SHARE, Maine Audubon, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Penobscot Indian Nation, the Houlton Band of Maliseets and the Passamaquoddy Indian Nations. As a group, the partners have pledged to match or exceed the $6 million contribution to Maine’s infrastructure.

In a typical restoration, workers remove an old, rusted culvert, perhaps three-to-four feet in diameter, and replace it with a larger arch or bridge similar in width to upstream and downstream stretches. The resulting natural stream bed and water depth and flow let fish pass through easily. Other wildlife, such as beaver, mink, muskrats, turtles, snakes and frogs, can cross under the roadway via dry banks inside of the structure. The wider passageway can accommodate floodwaters, protecting the road during storms.

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The completed project offers improved fish passage and increased protection against flooding. Credit: USFWS

The project will focus on waterways with some of the last endangered Atlantic salmon populations in the United States and critical Eastern brook trout habitat. Undersized culverts hinder the migration of these species, often keeping them from important spawning and rearing areas upstream.

While employing construction workers in the short-term, the project also will increase road stability and safety throughout Maine’s forestlands, supporting the forest industry, recreation and local economies. Healthy rivers and streams offer clean drinking water and enhanced sport fishing. Maine’s tribes will gain access to subsistence fishing, and downstream fisheries as far as the coast will benefit from improved water quality.

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Service staff from the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program, Maine Field Office of Ecological Services and Moosehorn and Lake Umbagog national wildlife refuges worked together to remove the old culvert and replace it with a 12-foot-wide concrete arch. Credit: USFWS

Jed Wright, project leader of the Service’s Gulf of Maine Coastal Program, is excited to work with partners to increase the pace of restoring stream connectivity in Maine. “We’re committed to helping private landowners implement great projects by providing funding, conducting site surveys, designing replacement structures, and ensuring that construction will have minimal impact on fish and their habitats,” Wright said.

“With over 11 million acres of Maine forest in private hands,” added Kate Dempsey, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Maine, “this project stands ultimately to influence stream-friendly management on thousands of miles of some of the best aquatic habitat in the East and spur innovations and efficiencies to influence restoration even more broadly nationally as we and our partners share lessons from this project.”

And that means more waterways with smooth sailing for species traveling upstream. Now, if we could do something about those Interstate bottlenecks….

(Lauri Munroe-Hultman is a writer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Hadley, Mass.)

Heavy machinery at hogansburg dam

Removing Hogansburg dam = Restoring nature and culture in Upstate NY

Check out the rapid changes to the St. Regis River even after just removing the west side of Hogansburg Hydroelectric Dam. Photo courtesy of Tony David

Check out the rapid changes to the St. Regis River even after just removing the west side of Hogansburg Hydroelectric Dam. More like a river, less like a lake! Photo courtesy of Tony David.

Justin Dalaba

Today you’re hearing from Justin Dalaba, our new outreach coordinator for the New York Field Office. He graduated this summer from St. Lawrence University with a bachelor of science in conservation biology. Welcome Justin!

Near the mouth of the St. Regis River in Franklin County, New York, are the final remnants of the Hogansburg Hydroelectric Dam.

The 330-foot-long dam blocked migrating fish and hindered a way of life for over 85 years. The dam neighbors the Saint Regis Mohawk reservation, also known as Akwesasne, and is part of the Tribe’s decades old boundary claim. Talk among stakeholders about decommissioning the Hogansburg Hydroelectric Project, owned by Brookfield Renewable Energy, began in the early stages of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, aka FERC, relicensing nearly five years ago.

Here’s what you should know:

    1. Hogansburg is the first hydroelectric dam in New York State to be fully removed. Plus, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe is the first Tribe in the U.S. to remove a FERC-licensed hydroelectric dam!
      Hogansburg Dam has been the site for various mills and dams since 1762, with the initial construction of the Hogansburg Hydroelectric Dam we know today in 1929. The project underwent a thorough review in 2015, when FERC needed to begin the project’s relicensing process. For Brookfield, relicensing would mean costly mechanical and environmental work. Our agency, along with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Trout Unlimited, and Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, offered an alternative—decommission the dam in disrepair. The Tribe took the lead, ultimately returning project lands to the Mohawk people. FERC issued a decommissioning order in June 2016, followed two months later by removal that is now near completion.
    2. The removal of Hogansburg Dam has reconnected nearly 275 miles of main stem and tributary habitat for migratory fish. Removing Hogansburg Dam, the first dam on the St. Regis River, will re-establish the river’s direct connection to the St. Lawrence River. For nearly a century, the dam has blocked this important stream habitat to fish migrating from the St. Lawrence River within the St. Regis watershed. The key fish that will benefit from removal of the dam include the American eel (Anguilla rostrata), lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), and walleye (Sander vitreus).

      juvenile lake sturgeon

      Juvenile lake sturgeon, one of the species expected to benefit from the dam removal.
      Credit: Justin Dalaba, USFWS

    3. Removing Hogansburg Dam restores historic territory that has shaped the Mohawk peoples’ way of life.
      The Mohawk people of Akwesasne have a deeply rooted history in a subsistence lifestyle including hunting and fishing along the expansive network of rivers connecting the St. Lawrence River to the Adirondacks. This was changed when early settlers reshaped the network of tributaries for natural resource and hydroelectric power exploitation.With funding from a variety of private and federal sources, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe was able to have a direct hand in the Hogansburg Dam removal and studying pre and post removal conditions. Decommissioning of the Hogansburg Project means the repatriation of land to the Tribe surrounding the river. Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe will continue working with other stakeholders to study changes following the dam removal.

      Heavy machinery at hogansburg dam

      Let the heavy machinery have at it! Photo courtesy of Tony David.

    4. This removed dam does not mean lost power.
      The poorly functioning Hogansburg Dam provided a miniscule amount of the power supplied for New York (if you want to be exact, 0.00058%). While the project could power 74 households per year in total, it was in need of significant resources to run, repair and upgrade the facility. In comparison, the much larger Moses-Saunders Power Dam on the St. Lawrence River matches Hogansburg’s annual power output roughly every 30 minutes. The Moses-Saunders Power Dam produces more than enough electricity to light a city the size of Washington, D.C.!
    5. The removal of Hogansburg Dam is a stepping-stone toward future conservation.
      While removing this dam does not restore the entire landscape, it is an important starting point toward meeting migratory fish restoration goals and restoring land for the Tribe. This is an opportunity for scientists, including our agency and the U.S. Geological Survey, to work with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe to monitor the success of the dam removal and future habitat enhancement.
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Stephen Patch, senior fish & wildlife biologist at the New York Field Office, stands among the final remnants of the Hogansburg Dam. Steve has been an integral part of the dam removal. Credit: Anne Secord, USFWS.