Scientists To Conduct First-Time Assessment Of Fish Migrations In Pawcatuck River

Apr 10, 2018

Scientists will be tracking the movement of migratory fish along the Pawcatuck River this spring. It's the first time the entire river has been accessible to fish since the 1880s.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has spent nearly ten years removing the Lower Shannock, Kenyon, White Rock and Bradford dams and replacing some of them with a series of steps and resting pools that make is easier for fish to navigate up and down the river to spawn. The agency also added fish ladders to the Horseshoe Falls and Potter Hill dams. 

Now, researchers want to assess the effectiveness of their structures. 

"We’ve never tested it, so we want to test that and see how well (the fishways) do and if we’ve done a good job at designing (them) to meet (the fishes') needs," Suzanne Paton, project leader and senior biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's coastal program, said. 

Within the next couple of weeks, scientists will start on a two-year study that involves tagging about 100 river herring and 100 shad with radio transmitters and passive integrated transponder tags to monitor how well they navigate.

Signals from the tags will be picked up by antennas across different sites along the Pawcatuck River. The transmitters will determine how long it takes the fish to get from one antenna to the next. 

Paton said more migratory fish making their way up the river could benefit commercial and recreational fishing.  

"If we can get a run of 100,000 or several hundred thousand fish going up in this river and spawning, that’s a lot of young fish that are food for bigger marine fish and other species," Paton said. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be working with the U.S. Geological Survey, University of Rhode Island Graduate School, and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management on the project. 

Funding for the study comes primarily from a $300,000 federal grant for Hurricane Sandy recovery and resilience projects.