New fish passage to restore historic trout runs
Officials from the Town of Brookhaven and state DEC join State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) as he points to a newly constructed fish passage at Upper Yaphank Lake.

ADV/Smith

New fish passage to restore historic trout runs

Story By: TARA SMITH
8/10/2017


In a push to restore the ecological connectivity within the Carmans River, a new fish passage and reconstructed spillway were unveiled at Upper Yaphank Lake earlier this week. 

The fish passage is designed to pass river herring, including alewives and blueback herring, and trout species upstream. The dam at Upper Yaphank Lake, also known as Willow Lake, was constructed in the 1700s and has prevented the fish from accessing their spawning and feeding habitats. Impeding fish migration has resulted in a significant decline in populations of diadromous species.

The completion of the new passage marks the first time fish will be able to access this area in 270 years, said Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine at a press conference Monday afternoon. “Years ago, we had all types of fish travel up this river, and then in the 1700s, two dams were built and made fish passage impossible,” he explained. “Now we wait for the county to build the fish passage, which has been in the capital budget for some time, in the lower lake.”

Chart Guthrie, regional fisheries manager for the NYSDEC, said at the press conference that they are working on issuing permits to the county so work can begin in the Lower (Lily) Lake. The county must first submit plans to be reviewed by the DEC before a permit is issued. Guthrie said that review of those plans is currently underway. 

He also reported that last week, officials surveyed Hards Lake in Shirley, where the first fish passage on the Carmans River was installed. Samples of species, length and weight were taken through electrofishing, which Guthrie said stuns fish, but doesn’t kill them. 

August is the ideal time of year to take these samples because it captures young fish who are growing up in the pond before heading back out to sea, Guthrie explained. 

“We documented young alewives in the lake, so they are getting up the fish ladder,” he said. “In previous surveys, we documented alewives as far up as the Long Island Expressway. They can definitely swim further up, they just need to get over the Lower Lake. Then they can get up here and we’ll have the whole river covered.”

George Costa, Region 1 vice president of Trout Unlimited, has been a huge advocate for the installation of this passage after seeing the success of the Hards Lake passage, which was installed 10 years ago. “It helps the river return to a more natural state,” Costa said, marveling down at the new passage despite the rainy weather. When the first passage opened nearly 10 years ago, “the fish went right up it,” Costa recalled. “It was amazing.”

He hopes to see fish populations return even further upstream to the Upper Lake. “Our main concern is the natural and historical brook trout,” he explained. “Hopefully, trout will use the ladder, but it also opens the river up and invites other species from our natural history as well.”

Town officials noted that the old spillway was crumbling and in dire need of replacement. The new spillway has added capacity to pass floodwaters and enhanced resiliency in case of future flooding impacts. 

The two enhancements, Romaine explained, cost $650,000 in total and was matching, meaning the town completed some work removing invasive species in the lake first. The project was completed by Terry Contracting and Materials Inc., which specializes in marine and environmental projects. “Projects like this really benefit the environment,” said contractor Pat Terry, noting ecological benefits.

State Sen. Ken LaValle also spoke at the press conference, since the project was partially state-funded. “It has been a pleasure to work with Supervisor Ed Romaine and Councilman Michael Loguercio to put in place an updated and environmentally sustainable technology to improve the ecology of Yaphank Lake and the Carmans River,” LaValle said, adding that he remains committed to preserving natural resources for generations to come.

For Loguercio, the project has more than just environmental benefits. “I’m excited to see this project through, not only for the ecology and ecosystem, but for the sportsmen who are going to be using this and enjoying this for many, many years to come,” Loguercio said.