Tag Archives: penobscot

Men dressed in colonial wear in a boat with an American flag

Silent witnesses to the historic Christmas night crossing of the Delaware

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Fisheries Biologist Catherine Gatenby dishes about fish!

On December 25, 1776 the watermen of Massachusetts navigated George Washington and his Continental Army across the Delaware River in the dark of the night. Below, huddling together in the depths of the river, were likely hundreds of witnesses to this historic event, shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum).

Men dressed in colonial wear in a boat with an American flag

Reenactment of Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas. Credit: Bucks County CVB.

At 55 pounds and five feet long, shortnose sturgeon are large fish, but they are the smallest of the three species of sturgeon in eastern North America. Like their cousins the Atlantic sturgeon, they once occurred by the thousands in coastal rivers from Canada to Florida.  Unlike Atlantic sturgeon, however, the shortnose spends most of its life in rivers – even in the cold of December.

By the end of the 19th century, overharvest had seriously depleted shortnose sturgeon populations. Damming rivers and using them as dumping grounds during the industrialization of the U.S. were final blows to sturgeon and their habitat.  By 1967 only a few remnant populations existed, so shortnose sturgeon were included on the original endangered species list. 

A large fish with a flattened nose lurks.

Shortnose sturgeon. Credit: USFWS

Today, after 40 years of protection by the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, shortnose sturgeon seem to be doing better in northern rivers. The Hudson River population alone has increased by over 400 percent since 1973.

 Shortnose sturgeon have been found again in the Penobscot River in Maine.  “Finding them at all is big; they haven’t been seen in the Penobscot since 1970” said Dr. Joe Zydlewski, Maine Cooperative Research Unit, U.S. Geological Survey – as he quickly suggested I speak with his wife, Dr. Gail Zydlewski, at the University of Maine.

In 2005 Dr. Zydlewski began a tagging program to monitor shortnose migratory behaviors and use of rivers in Maine after a fisherman hauled in a shortnose from the Penobscot. She and her team found that shortnose sturgeon in the Penobscot may migrate to the Kennebec River to spawn. 

Once upon a time, the Penobscot River had huge populations of spawning shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon and the fish may yet live happily ever after there. Removal of the Veazie and other dams will restore access to 100 percent of historic spawning habitat for all sturgeon in the Penobscot River.  

A biologist handles a fish in a trough.

This shortnose sturgeon was caught in the Delaware River during a population health assessment
by the Service and Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Credit: USFWS

In the Delaware River, shortnose sturgeon may be rebounding as well, helping to repopulate the Potomac River via the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.  Shortnose were thought to be gone from the Potomac, but fishermen have reported catching them in the past 10 years and scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified a shortnose making a pre-spawning migration run in the Potomac River. “Although, we aren’t yet certain whether shortnose are spawning in the Potomac, we are certain suitable habitat exists for foraging, wintering and spawning,” said Mike Mangold, Service Biologist.

A biologist handles a fish on a dock.

Shortnose sturgeon captured in the upper Chesapeake Bay by a commercial fisherman was tagged to monitor behavior and identify potential suitable habitat. Credit: USFWS

In 1992, the Service’s Maryland Fisheries Resource Office began managing the Atlantic Coast Cooperative Sturgeon Tagging program. “We are building a better understanding of how populations are faring in the wild, and where to focus efforts on restoring additional habitat for sturgeon” said Sheila Eyler, program coordinator. 

As we reflect back upon the historic crossing of the Delaware this holiday season, let’s also reflect how fortunate we are to enjoy the heritage of our native fish populations and  healthy, rich and productive rivers now and always.  

A man holds a fish that has orange eggs squirting out of it.

Working with tribes for healthy waters and fish

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Fisheries Biologist and Communication Coordinator Catherine Gatenby dishes about fish!

Conserving fish and keeping rivers and lakes healthy for all nations for all people takes cooperation and collaboration. The Northeast Fisheries Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with Native American governments to bring back self-sustaining populations of native fish–Atlantic salmon, Atlantic sturgeon, American shad, lake sturgeon and lake trout, to name a few.

Two eel-like lamprey are attached to a lake trout held by someone

Early detection of invasive species on tribal lands will help prevent the spread of sea lamprey which harm native lake trout. Credit: USFWS

Together we share funding and brain power to determine biological needs, decide where to focus habitat restoration, monitor overall health and distribution of wild fisheries and determine when to use hatchery-rearing and stocking to give a boost to wild populations.

Our biologists have helped tribal groups from Virginia to Oregon learn about shad and freshwater mussel culture. We produce lake trout at Allegheny National Fish Hatchery to stock into tribal and public waters. And we help the Seneca Nation to control sea lamprey, which have had devastating effects on native lake trout. We also work with the Six Nations of the Iroquois to restore lake sturgeon.

A man holds a fish that has orange eggs squirting out of it.

Mike Whited is spawning rainbow trout at the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery. These rainbow trout eggs are destined for someone’s fishing pole and dinner plate after they have been reared to stock-able size at tribal and other national fish hatcheries. Credit: USFWS.

Recently, we, the Penobscot Indian Nation  and the entire Penobscot River Restoration team celebrated a major milestone to improve fish habitat and restore the mighty Penobscot River

This ongoing collaboration reverses 200 years of degradation by removing several dams, returning thousands of river miles for migratory fish such as Atlantic salmon, Atlantic sturgeon, shortnose sturgeon and American shad. It makes the river healthier for all fish, too.

This Lake trout caught in 2003, weighed 41.5 lbs and measured 42.5 inches, and still holds the New York state record.  Because the fish was tagged, we can trace the fish back to an Allegheny National Fish Hatchery stocking event in 1985. Credit: NY State Department of Environmental Conservation

This Lake trout caught in 2003, weighed 41.5 lbs and measured 42.5 inches, and still holds the New York state record. Because the fish was tagged, we can trace the fish back to an Allegheny National Fish Hatchery stocking event in 1985. Credit: NY State Department of Environmental Conservation

The Northeast Fisheries program also promotes recreational fishing on tribal lands across the country.  We ship more than one million disease-free rainbow trout eggs from White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery to five tribes – the Apache, Arapaho, Mescalero, Navaho, and Cherokee.

Our scientists at the Northeast Fishery Center in Lamar, Pennsylvania regularly monitor health of the rainbow trout, to certify the eggs disease-free.  This is critical to prevent the spread of aquatic diseases that could harm native fish, and threaten the health of aquatic ecosystems across the country.

Relationships with tribes to restore rivers, lakes and healthy fish populations enhances recreation and the economy on tribal and public lands across our nation and embodies the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: “working with others, to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.”

Veazie Dam: There and gone…

It’s been some time since we checked in with Steve Shepard at Veazie Dam on Maine’s Penobscot River. Steve is in our Maine Field Office, and he’s put together this great slideshow.

The last of the major impediments to a free-flowing river at Veazie are under removal! The dam was breached back in July.

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“I’ve had the pleasure of working on the Penobscot River on and off for more than two decades, conducting fish passage research and working on the licensing of the dams,” he says. “I’ve tagged and chased many salmon, enjoyed my nights studying eels, seen dense schools of adult and juvenile alewife, Tim and I had otters bumping into our boots, and of course, I’ve spent countless hours in Penobscot meetings. The Penobscot is a special place. I’ve lived most of my life in this watershed and I look forward to the changes that will be realized as a result of the removal of these dams.”

Follow the Penobscot River Restoration Trust for updates and great photos!