[This article was written in 2010, there is another public comment period open until Wednesday, December 14, 2011. You can view it here]
Shad close to home
BY JAVIER SERNA – Staff Writer
Raleigh News and Observer
April 16, 2010
Published in: Outdoors
RALEIGH A 2-pound American shad hen danced along the Neuse River’s surface and spun line off a medium-action spinning reel like a spool of kite string at the other end of a steady Atlantic breeze.
The scene is most common toward the coast, but there’s no need to truck down to the coast to satisfy the saltwater fishing urge.
For a couple of weeks, American shad have been concentrating at the Milburnie Dam in Raleigh, nearly 230 river miles upriver from the Pamlico Sound.
“They’ve come a long way,” said John Ellis, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who spends many spare spring hours pursuing American shad for the fun of it. “We’re pretty high up in the watershed.”
The American shad is one of several species that have been able to reach their former spawning grounds ever since a downstream dam was removed 12 years ago.
An electroshocking survey conducted near the Milburnie Dam last week by N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologists turned up several dozen American shad and even a couple of striped bass, typical of spring sampling for the past 10 years.
“It suggests that these fish are taking advantage of the spawning habitat in the upper part of the river,” said Bob Barwick, a state fish biologist.
Earlier in the spring, hickory shad, the smaller cousin of the American shad, also ran up the Neuse, the longest river that is completely within the state’s boundaries.
Ellis and several of his colleagues aren’t the only ones who get a kick out of fishing for shad during a run that typically lasts into May. Others use fly rods to cast brightly colored “junk” flies with success.
There’s no telling how many fish are kept, but state law allows a combination of 10 American and hickory shad to be kept per day, unless the angler is fishing the Roanoke River, where only one of those may be an American shad.
“They’re tasty,” said Ellis, who said he would like to see the limit for American shad lowered on the Neuse to help protect the species.
The state has considered doing so but has decided it against for now, Barwick said.
In North Carolina, American shad tend to spawn more than once in their lives. On the Neuse River, American shad could go only as far as the Quaker Neck Dam near Goldsboro until 1998, when the dam was removed, opening up 78 more miles of river.
The low-head dam had been built in 1952, and its removal reopened old spawning grounds primarily for American shad and striped bass.
The American shad population in the Neuse is viable enough that, until this year, state biologists removed shad from below the Milburnie Dam to be used in hatchery efforts to stock the Roanoke River, which has a struggling population of the species. Striped bass and hickory shad are more abundant on the Roanoke.
The collection stopped this year because, although there are still a few 4-pound females, considered good breeders, the numbers of bigger fish are dwindling in the Neuse.
“We’re worred about removing too many fish from the Neuse River,” Barwick said.
A chance exists that more of the Neuse could be opened soon. An open comment period is being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding a proposal to remove the Milburnie Dam, which would add 15 free-flowing miles to the Neuse, making the Falls Lake dam the new dead end for migratory fish. The comment period closes April 22.
As readers know, RS loves blowing up old, useless dams. And apparently so does the federal government. Look here at the Condit Dam recently breeched by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore salmon waters in Washington State.
In North Carolina there is much gnashing of regulatory teeth and pulling of agency hair regarding the potential for a dam removal to make the water “turbid” (muddy) for some time during removal. As a result, and with some justification, RS dam removals have been managed with very little sediment released. We drain the bathtub slooooowly.
Out West this did not appear to be much of a problem. My educated guess is that the sediment release pictured here at the Condit Dam would be considered “catastrophic” in the Old North State (by the same federal government that pulled the plug on Condit).
Each dam removal has its own special constraints and trade-offs. And I do not begrudge the federal sponsors their ability to break a few eggs when making an omelet of the White Salmon River. But it is amazing how one procedure can be employed in one area — and considered horrific in another.
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”
In the spring of 2007, North Carolina State University researchers set up a resistance board weir at the former Lowell Mill Dam site to monitor upstream and downstream migrations.
Continue reading for the study-
The Little River originates in Franklin County, North Carolina, and flows into the Neuse River near Goldsboro
Three dams have been removed since 1998, while a notched and impassable dam still remain
Both anadromous species, such as American shad, and year-round resident species, including suckers and gizzard shad, have annual spawning migrations in the river
In the spring of 2007, North Carolina State University researchers set up a resistance board weir at the former Lowell Mill Dam site to monitor upstream and downstream migrations
Upstream electrofishing provided additional information on fish locations
American shad abundance was compared to two “rule-of-thumb” estimates of run size for a restored population (conservative: 7 adults/ha; optimistic: 124 adults/ha)
Eggs and larvae were collected with plankton nets on the Little River and one Buffalo Creek site.
Migratory American Shad (502), gizzard shad (302), notchlip redhorse (58) were the most abundant fish collected in the weir
Largemouth bass, sunfishes, channel catfish, and additional species were also sampled
American & gizzard shad migrated to Atkinson Mill Dam, the maximum extent of restored habitat
Flow was important for migrations, as species migrated in highest numbers during increased flow periods
Total American shad abundance (508) was higher than the conservative estimate but drastically lower than the optimistic estimate for the reach below of Atkinson Mill Dam
American shad spawning was confirmed by eggs and larvae collected both downstream and upstream of the weir site
Fish, especially migratory species, are utilizing restored habitat following dam removals on the Little River
Since dam removals began in 1998, it may be too early to see overall population responses
River flow may annually influence the extent that fish migrate upstream and use restored habitat
For 2008, the weir will be moved downstream in order to sample the entire river
In addition, fish will receive permanent PIT identification tags. Passive and active tracking of these fish will provide detailed information about migration and spawning habitat
Finally, fish passage or hindrance at the notched dam will also be evaluated
Joshua K. Raabe, Graduate Research Assistant., PhD candidate
Joseph E. Hightower, Professor, Assistant Unit Leader