Two of the five dammed locations on the Peconic River are now open for the passage of fish and eels swimming upstream, with the opening this week of new fish and eel ladders on state Department of Environmental Conservation lands on Edwards Avenue in Calverton.
DEC staff, members of the Peconic Estuary Program and local civic and elected leaders held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning at the dam, which has just been reconstructed with a new spillway and separate ladders for fish and eels, with $967,500 in funds from New York Works.
The project, which replaced a failing concrete damn with a concrete and steel sheeting spillway, meets 100-year flood protection requirements and raises the water level behind the damn to levels not seen for nearly a decade, since the old dam began to fail.
With the completion of these westernmost fish ladders and another ladder completed two years ago at the easternmost blocked site in the Peconic River in Grangebel Park, there are now three other dammed spots in between the ladders where fish ladders are in the works — at Woodhull Dam in the Cranberry Bog County Park, at Forge Road and at the Upper Mills site, said Peconic Estuary Program Director Alison Branco at Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“Those projects are moving forward,” she said, adding that environmentalists hope to eventually provide habitat for fish who swim upstream throughout a seven-mile length of the river spanning 300 acres.
Dr. Branco said that, while alewives won’t be able to make it as far west as the Edwards Avenue dam until the middle fish runs are complete, local fish species and eels will be able to use the new ladders now.
DEC Marine Division Director Jim Gilmore agreed.
“In terms of ecosystem-based management, we’re really walking the walk on this, connecting the seas with the inland waterways,” he said. “When you hear about bycatch and overfishing, a bigger problem with our fisheries is really habitat.”
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said that, after the fish ladder was built in Grangebel Park, seals began swimming up the Peconic River to feed on the alewives, restoring a link in the ecological chain.
“Fish ladders work,” he said.
Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski added that, in the past, government invested in industry, but now government is best put to use investing in the environment.
“Today is really about tomorrow,” he said. “The fish coming upstream are filter feeders and they will clean the river. They are right in the middle of the food chain.”