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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.

Hightower-shad-photo

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…

Milburnie Dam Informational Video

Check out Restoration Systems new informational video concerning the Milburnie Dam removal, please share it — and consider signing our petition!

 

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

Sad Shad: Still blocked by Milburnie Dam after all these years

[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.

New water

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.

Read more

Video: RS makes case for removing the Milburnie Dam on the Neuse in Raleigh

Tweet This! http://mync.com/site/50660/ RALEIGH, N.C. –
A group of residents is fighting against proposed changes to the Neuse River in Raleigh.
Raleigh-based Restoration Systems is proposing to remove the Milburnie Dam, which sits about 15 miles downstream from Falls Lake.

But some residents who live along the river say they don’t want to see the dam removed.
“Canoeing isn’t going to be as much fun. There’s not going to be any boating possible any more,” said resident Gina da Roza, who fears water levels in the river will drop when the dam is removed.

She said there are also concerns about changing the water quality if the dam is removed.
“The water moves freely here. It’s very wide, the water’s clean,” she said.

She also said there are more Greenway trails planned for that area of Raleigh, and she said changing the environment there will discourage people from using the trails.

Restoration Systems President George Howard said the river is just going to be restored to its original state.
“The river’s not going anywhere,” he said.

Howard, who said his company has had success with other dam removal projects, said removing the Milburnie Dam will create a more free-flowing body of water that will help the fish population and improve water quality.

He said the company will pay for removing the dam, and then plans to sell credits to developers.
Howard admitted the river level might drop during the summer months, but said the river probably won’t look much different in the winter.

“In the summer it’s going to get somewhat lower, and that might keep you from getting motor boats out on the river, but the river wasn’t intended for motor boats originally,” he said.

In 2002, a group of state agencies said removing the dam was a priority.

Public comment is due by April 22 to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will have to approve removing the dam.

Dam Removals Benefit Migratory Fishes in Little River, NC

 

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-

Little River 

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 

The Study

 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. 

Results

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 

 

Conclusions 

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  

Produced By: 

Joshua K. Raabe, Graduate Research Assistant., PhD candidate

Joseph E. Hightower, Professor, Assistant Unit Leader 

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