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Fish Story?: RS improves migration of iconic shad fish into Piedmont

Sometimes the best works of mitigation bankers go unrecognized, but perhaps not forever. Today we were thrilled at Restoration Systems to see N.C. State University report that our removal of the Lowell Dam on the Little River, a tributary of the Neuse River, has contributed to the improvement of the fishery. We’ve known that for some time — but always gratifying to see it in the journals.

Here is the story from State:

Dam Removal Improves Shad Spawning Grounds, May Boost Survival Rate

For Immediate Release

Matt Shipman | News Services | 919.515.6386

Dr. Joe Hightower | 919.515.8836

Release Date: 05.21.14
Filed under Releases

Research from North Carolina State University finds that dam removal improves spawning grounds for American shad and seems likely to improve survival rates for adult fish, juveniles and eggs – but for different reasons.

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American shad before spawning. Photo: Joshua Raabe.

 

The researchers focused on a small tributary in North Carolina called the Little River, where three dams were removed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. American shad (Alosa sapidissima) spend the bulk of their adult lives in saltwater, but return to freshwater rivers like this one to spawn. While in these freshwater environments, the adult shad do not feed. As a result, many of the adult fish die before they have a chance to return to the ocean.

Between 2008 and 2010, the research team tagged, weighed and released approximately 3,000 American shad at a weir – or fish gate – that was sited at one of the dam removal sites on the Little River. The shad were tagged on their way upstream to spawn. Researchers set up antennas along the length of the river to detect the fish tags, allowing the scientists to tell how far upstream the fish traveled.

“Shad were using all of the restored habitat,” says Dr. Joshua Raabe, lead author of a paper on the research and an assistant professor at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point who worked on the project while a Ph.D. student at NC State.

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American shad, emaciated after spawning. Photo credit: Joshua Raabe.

“This is important because upstream sites are generally higher-quality spawning sites, which should improve survival of eggs and juvenile fishes,” says Dr. Joe Hightower, co-author of the paper and a U. S. Geological Survey scientist and professor of applied ecology at NC State. “For example, some key predator species, such as flathead catfish, become less common the further you go upstream.”

The researchers also caught surviving shad on their way back downstream, allowing them to see how much weight the shad had lost while spawning and to estimate mortality rates. Mortality was high overall. Male shad could lose up to 30 percent of their body weight while spawning, while females could lose up to 50 percent.

The researchers found that weight loss was primarily linked to water temperatures and the amount of time the fish spent in the river, rather than how far upstream the fish went to spawn.

“This tells us that the longer fish are detained the more weight they’ll lose, the more likely they are to die and the less likely they are to reach preferred habitat before spawning,” Raabe says. “This is important information when considering waterways where dams or other obstacles could slow the shad’s progress.”

“Basically, the clock is ticking and these fish have a job to do,” Hightower says. “The study indicates that anything we can do to improve fish passage should improve survival rates.”

The paper, “American Shad Migratory Behavior, Weight Loss, Survival, and Abundance in a North Carolina River following Dam Removals,” was published online May 13 inTransactions of the American Fisheries Society. Hightower is also part of the U.S. Geological Survey’s North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit based at NC State. The research was supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“American Shad Migratory Behavior, Weight Loss, Survival, and Abundance in a North Carolina River following Dam Removals”

Authors: Joshua K. Raabe, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point; Joseph E. Hightower, North Carolina State University and the U.S. Geological Survey

Published: online May 13, Transactions of the American Fisheries Society

DOI: 10.1080/00028487.2014.882410

Abstract: Despite extensive management and research, populations of American Shad Alosa sapidissima have experienced prolonged declines, and uncertainty about the underlying mechanisms causing these declines remains. In the springs of 2007 through 2010, we used a resistance board weir and PIT technology to capture, tag, and track American Shad in the Little River, North Carolina, a tributary to the Neuse River with complete and partial removals of low-head dams. Our objectives were to examine migratory behaviors and estimate weight loss, survival, and abundance during each spawning season. Males typically immigrated earlier than females and also used upstream habitat at a higher percentage, but otherwise exhibited relatively similar migratory patterns. Proportional weight loss displayed a strong positive relationship with both cumulative water temperature during residence time and number of days spent upstream, and to a lesser extent, minimum distance the fish traveled in the river. Surviving emigrating males lost up to 30% of their initial weight and females lost up to 50% of their initial weight, indicating there are potential survival thresholds. Survival for the spawning season was low and estimates ranged from 0.07 to 0.17; no distinct factors (e.g., sex, size, migration distance) that could contribute to survival were detected. Sampled and estimated American Shad abundance increased from 2007 through 2009, but was lower in 2010. Our study provides substantial new information about American Shad spawning that may aid restoration efforts.

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American Shad Migratory Behavior, Weight Loss, Survival, and Abundance in a North Carolina River following…

A spatial capture–recapture model to estimate fish survival and location from linear continuous monitoring…

North Carolina, Neuse River Basin Dam Removal Paying Dividends for Anadromous Fish

Anadromous fish are those, such as shad, that return to freshwater to spawn after spending part of their lives in the ocean. Bennett Wynne, the North Carollina Wildlife Resources Commission’s Anadromous Fisheries Coordinator is quoted as saying “In the Neuse River, hickory shad have been more abundant. Last week, we picked up a few around Goldsboro, along with some American shad. I am cautiously optimistic about shad numbers. Removing dams is important to both species but more so for American shad because they prefer spawning on the rockier substrate above the fall line. Most of the hickory shad population is found from Kinston downstream, where Pitchkettle Creek is the historical place where fishermen catch them. Last year we had strong flows in the river and we saw a good turnout of anglers at Milburnie Dam near Raleigh in Wake County. It is great that we can have a fishery for shad that far inland.”
READ MORE AT  http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/04/09/3771485/neuse-shad-run-nears-peak-numbers.html?sp=/99/103/126/

This Just In: Milburnie Dam agency and NGO Comments

That Ain’t Right!: Critic of dam removal fails to disclose conflict

I came into the office this morning (Saturday!) and was surprised to learn I had missed a News and Observer article earlier this morning about our proposal to remove the Milburnie Dam on the Neuse River.

Anyway, I found the article, “Firm Again Asks to Remove Dam,” a mixed bag.  I appreciated seeing the support of the Neuse River Association, and the accurate comments of Dickie Harrison of the Deep River Parks Association about the Carbonton Dam.  But I was shocked and disappointed to see a name from Restoration Systems past make nutty statements about the Lowell Dam project — and fail to be identified as someone with an ax to grind.

David Grady is quoted saying,

 “The fish that they were supposed to spawn were going to have to grow legs, because they dried the river up,” he said. “They absolutely decimated the river.”

— David Grady

I’ve got two problems with that silly quote. One, it is demonstrably inaccurate that the Lowell dam removal failed to enhance the spawning opportunities for migratory fish (more on that in a moment) or that we, “dried the river up.”  And two, David Grady is the disgruntled son of a fine man RS was involved in a purchase of land from well before the Lowell Dam was removed, making him a score settler — not a source of good information.

I suspect his beef has less to do with the river — and more to do with…..his beef over the earlier transaction.

As for the Little River after the Lowell Dam was removed, here is what N.C. State and 876 fish have to say:

Prior to the removal of Lowell Mill Dam on the Little River, resident upstream fish could migrate downstream by spilling over the dam, but upstream migration, including that by anadromous fish, was precluded. Following dam removal, both resident and anadromous fish species were captured at the weir moving upstream and downstream. In total, 876 unique fish took advantage of the unobstructed migration and some migrated past the former dam site in both directions. American shad and gizzard shad utilized the entire extent of restored habitat as they migrated up to the impassable Atkinson Mill Dam. Increased spawning migrations by American shad following dam removals have been documented in previous studies (Walburg and Nichols 1967, Burdick and Hightower 2006). In addition to utilizing upstream habitat for spawning, the reconnected river allows fish to move freely for food, cover, and preferred water temperatures, flow, and depth in the Little River, but also in tributaries and the Neuse River.

Annual Report

Joshua K. Raabe
Joseph E. Hightower
United State Geological Survey
North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
North Carolina State University, Department of Zoology
Raleigh, North Carolina
February 20, 2008

If 876 fish seems a bit low, consider that this was in 2007, one of the worst droughts in recent years (see video).  The fact remains that removing the Lowell Dam was good for the Little River and good for fish — if not David Grady.

As for the Little River “drying up,” consider this quote from Dr. Josh Raabe of N.C. State:

“That’s what excites me, when we catch huge fish, the big catfish.
We’ve caught a couple of 40-pound-plus catfish,” Danesi said. “I like seeing the dynamics of the river, too. Just a couple of days ago, this was a trickle, and now it’s seven feet.”  Josh Raabe, Researchers Study Little River Migration, Goldsboro News Argus, July 15, 2010

Josh gets it.  Natural river levels fluctuate. Sometimes the river is low — sometimes it is high.  That’s what healthy rivers without dams do.

Finally, make certain to check out this fabulous video produced by N.C. State regarding the recent ecological history of the Little River following the dam removals.  If removing the dam was an environmental disaster — I’ll take another helping:

 

Firm Again Asks to Remove Neuse’s Milburnie Dam

Raleigh News and Observer

December 10, 2011

RALEIGH New plans are rising to demolish and remove the 15-foot Milburnie Dam, the last man-made barrier along the Neuse River between Falls Lake and Pamlico Sound.

Restoration Systems, the Raleigh-based firm seeking approval, argues that pulling down the dam will release more than 32,000 linear feet of water and return the Neuse to a more natural state.

In their prospectus submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, they predict water quality will improve and migratory fish such as striped bass and American shad will get to swim and spawn farther upriver.

“If you just remove the dam, you open up a whole new world of habitat,” said Adam Riggsbee, consultant to Restoration Systems. “It’s almost instantaneous.”

But residents along the river see a grim future for the Neuse without the dam, which dates to 1855. Water levels would drop so drastically that Raleigh’s river would become a trickle, they say, spoiling the scenery just as the city is working to draw people there with greenways and pedestrian bridges.

They recall that the Corps turned down Restoration Systems last year, asking the firm to provide more data on the potential for draining wetlands and spreading toxic sediment.

“If they remove the dam, instead of having a nice beautiful river above the dam for the enjoyment of everyone, what we’re going to have is a meandering little muddy steam that you and I can wade across,” said James E. Smallwood, who lives just above the dam.

Meanwhile, the public has until Dec. 14 to comment.

Based in Raleigh, Restoration Systems has a long history of environmental mitigation banking, which means the firm does work to improve ecology and receives credits for that work. Those credits can then be sold to public and private developers doing construction projects that negatively impact wetlands.

As proposed, those credits could be used in a territory following the Neuse basin and its immediate surroundings, an area that stretches roughly from Person to Craven counties.

‘Decimated’ river

In recent years, Restoration Systems has taken out dams on the Deep and Little rivers nearby. Reviews are mixed.

Kenly Mayor David Grady said the Little River is narrow and shallow enough to jump across within three miles of the spot where the dam was removed. “The fish that they were supposed to spawn were going to have to grow legs, because they dried the river up,” he said. “They absolutely decimated the river.”

On the Deep River near the Chatham-Lee county border, taking out the dam rid the river of oil slicks and algae blooms in the lake-like water, said Dick Harrison of the Deep River Parks Association.

“Everything has turned out very good for us,” he said. “The water quality, the fish, the wildlife. I actually had five teenagers baptized down there.”

The firm’s prospectus is more than six times longer than its 2010 proposal, and it addresses the wetlands concerns by estimating that roughly 11 acres would be threatened by removing the dam.

As to the sediments, Restoration Systems points to a study conducted in August by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Raleigh. Data from the study were not included in the firm’s prospectus, but a draft report of the findings was provided to The News & Observer.

Dr. Tom Augspurger, ecologist and contaminants specialist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, reported pollutants in the samples collected both above and below the dam were lower than the level of concern.

Also, he said pollutants in sediment below the dam were typically higher than above, concluding that removing the dam is unlikely to increase pollution downriver.

Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Alissa Bierma said she supports removing the dam to make the Neuse more free-flowing. But she thinks the area where mitigation credits could be used should be smaller.

If the Corps approves Restoration Systems’ prospectus for the Neuse, it would still have to issue a permit later. Taking out the dam, if approved, would take years.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

Mag: RS Dam Removals Restoring Life to Once Drowned Rivers

Wildlife in North Carolina recently published an article on a subject dear to the Swamp Merchant’s heart. Lynette Batt of American Rivers has written a wonderful piece on the benefits, history, and challenges of dam removal in the Old North State. RS’ removal of the Carbonton and Lowell dams figure prominently in the article. We were particularly gratified to see crack river ecologist and RS contractor Tim Savidge, of the Catena Group, quoted regarding the terrific ecological results from the two projects. Both of our removals have resulted in the recolonization of formerly stagnant, deep water impoundments with federally endangered river species. The staggering ability of these rivers to renew themselves (with a little help from RS) is a story that cannot be told too many times:

Savidge notes that “the removal of the Carbonton Dam has resulted in recolonization of the former impoundment by a number of rare freshwater mussel species such as the yellow lampmussel, Savannah lilliput and notched rainbow.” He reports another major success for a federally endangered species, the Tar River spiny mussel, which was found in August 2010 in the former impoundment of the Lowell Dam on the Little River. That makes it the second endangered species found in any stream restoration site in North Carolina.
— Quoted in “Removing Dams, Restoring Rivers”

Removing Dams Restoring Rivers-Feb 2011- FINAL

Four Year Checkup: Lowell Park looking good for the new decade

I dropped by RS’ Lowell Park today in Kenly, NC, Johnston County.  Lowell Park is the site of the former Lowell Dam that RS shot to dust in 2005 for the NCEEP.  We purchased an additional 17 acres at the site so that we would leave behind something for the community after the removing the dangerous and defunct structure.

The interpretive signs could use a little paint, but otherwise the site is in ship-shape.  We pay an elderly gentleman to maintain the site and he does an excellent job.  There was hardly a cigarette butt to be seen and the grass was mowed as neat as a pin.

Scroll over and click to see full screen:

Now Showing at the Lowell Dam…

I drove down to the Lowell Dam, uh, former Lowell Dam, to see how the restoration of the river and dam site were progressing.

Here is a panorama photo of the dam in the summer of 2004:

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And here is site of the former dam today from left to right…

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I apoligize for the changes in perspective (and we are working on the ability to enlarge photos) but I think you can get the picture. It looks pretty good. The river is restoring.

Here are some more photos. Remember, the dam was 11 feet high and upstream was an 11 foot deep lake — for two centuries.

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