September 2015 - Karl Meyer - A Passion for the Connecticut River
The first thing you notice about Karl Meyer is that his eyes light up when he speaks about the Connecticut River and the fish that live in it. His commitment and enthusiasm show through in his words and in every action he takes.
In the 1970s’, Karl was interested in the river for its scenic qualities. But in the 1980’s, he visited the Holyoke Fish way during May spawning season and observed some of the million plus fish moving through lifts there. One year 720,000 American Shad and 500,000 blue back herring came through the river at Holyoke. That image never left him.
Since that time, Karl has concentrated on the needs of the fish in the river, with a particular concern for American shad and the short nose sturgeon, an endangered species. Karl believes the Connecticut’s restoration concentrated on the wrong species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put a great deal of effort into stocking the river and building fish ladders for Atlantic salmon, a fish extinct here since 1809. That emphasis diverted attention from short nose sturgeon, shad, and blue back herring, none of which benefit very much from those Turners Falls fish ladders which diverted all migrants into the Turners Falls power canal.
In 2015, 410,000 American shad passed through Holyoke, but because they are diverted out of the river and into the power canal, only 60,000, (fewer than 15%), made it past Turners Falls to reach open, upstream spawning grounds. This is clearly unsustainable. Today’s US Fish & Wildlife Service passage goal is 60% passing Turners Falls. Their original 1967 target was 75%.
With fewer fish making it to food-rich, open habitats, fewer newborn fish survive. There will be fewer fish for eagles, herons and osprey, and fewer for anglers and the public to consume. Eventually 15% of very little will result in the failure of the restoration to return vibrant shad runs to three target states.
Karl has a simple solution for this problem. Require life-giving flows in the river throughout spawning and migration season. When fish aren’t diverted into a turbine-lined power canal they’ll have a much greater possibility of making it to spawning grounds in MA, VT and NH. It’s a last chance for river restoration.
The other great danger to river health is the Northfield Mountain Pumping Station. It draws on the 20 miles of river backed up behind Turners Falls Dam, pumping it uphill to a 5 billion gallon reservoir. Northfield hugely impacts river flows and migration.
“An original design proposal had Northfield closing during migration and spawning season. Implementing that today would return more natural flows to the river. It would allow fish to migrate directly upriver in natural habitat, and let sturgeon gather and spawn successfully at their ancient Rock Dam spawning site,” stated Karl.
So how do we encourage this change? Easy. Right now the Northfield and Turners Falls/Cabot Station facilities are both up for 30-year relicensing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). We can all comment on the relicensing of these plants at http://www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/ecomment.asp. The FERC project number for Northfield is P-2485; Cabot Station is P-1889. Advocating that our river run free during spawning and migration season could make a huge difference in improving the health of the Connecticut.
Karl would like to see local high schools adopt the National Marine Fisheries Service’s SCUTES Program and encourage monitoring of tagged, adult short nose sturgeon at their only documented natural spawning site, The Rock Dam in Turners Falls. By developing an awareness of the numbers and needs of these endangered fish, students will build a new relationship to this river. http://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/prot_res/scutes/kits.html
For his tireless work to create a healthy Connecticut River and a vibrant fish population within it, Karl Meyer is our Green Hero for the month of September.