Jul 05, 2011

Coastal America Awards EPA, Others for Restoring Fish Passage in Peconic River

Project helped return alewife and American eels to their natural habitat, bolstering local water ecology

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a dozen national, state and local organizations received a prestigious award from Coastal America for their efforts and leadership in restoring a passage for fish on the Peconic River in Riverhead, N.Y.

By replacing a dam in Grangebel Park in Riverhead with a rock ramp, the project will help return alewife and American eels to their historic habitat and spawning areas on the Peconic River.

The river is an estuary where water from the sea mixes with fresh water from the river and streams. Estuaries are renowned for their habitat value, supporting 80% of recreational fish species during some or all of their life stages, and are sometimes called the “nurseries of the sea” because their sheltered, fertile bays and tributaries provide ideal locations for spawning and juvenile growth. Scores of marine fish live in the Peconic River.

The construction of the rock ramp reopened 24 acres of prime spawning habitat for alewife and American eels. Prior to the rock ramp being installed, a ladder that assisted the fish passage was built at the north spillway in Grangebel Park each spring since 2000. The permanent rock ramp, suitable for allowing the passage of both alewife and American eels, was constructed in the south spillway of Grangebel Park.

Both alewife and eels are critical parts of the estuarine food chain as prey for predatory fish and birds. Both species are also important as food and as baitfish for commercial and recreational fisheries.

Project partners include the Peconic Estuary Program, the Peconic River Fish Restoration Commission, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the town of Riverhead, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Suffolk County, American Rivers, the FishAmerica Foundation, the Corp. Wetlands Restoration Partnership, the New York Corp. Wetlands Restoration Partnership, National Grid and Spectra Energy.