Additional funds granted for fish passage
Last spring, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine teamed up with Seatuck to release the river herring in the freshwater northern portion of Swan River. In 2018, the town will install a fish passage in the Swan River to further promote river herring and brook trout populations.

File photo

Additional funds granted for fish passage



The Swan River will soon be home to a nature-like fish passage, finally allowing migrating fish species upstream to reach their ancestral spawning grounds. The project, originally slated to take place this fall, faced several funding obstacles even after receiving a grant for $345,000 last year.

“It wasn’t enough to pay for the construction,” explained Anthony Graves, chief environmental analyst for the Town of Brookhaven. The first round of grant funding was used for design plans and obtaining all necessary permits from the DEC. 

The town board officially accepted the new, $300,000 NYSDEC grant at a town board meeting last week. Work on the new fish passage is slated to begin in late spring or early summer 2018 and is expected to take approximately two months. “It’s basically a shovel-ready project,” Graves said, noting that the town has obtained all necessary DEC permits.

Supervisor Ed Romaine explained that it would be designed to look like a natural stream, running from the existing spillway diagonally northwest and ending at Swan Lake. Graves pointed out that the existing spillway on the north side of Main Street has a drop-off of 6 feet, which fish are currently unable to overcome.  

The natural-like fish passage differs from a fish passage installed at Upper Yaphank Lake earlier this year. The passage at Upper Lake uses a denil design that provides a cascading effect, which slows water velocity for fish species to get across. The denil passage has a more manufactured look, covered with metal grating. 

Native plants will also be planted along the new passage, and Graves said he hopes it can become an educational location. “We want people to be able to see the fish. Maybe school groups can come do some monitoring and research and appreciate an aspect of our local ecology,” he said.

Earlier this year in April, town officials joined the Seatuck Environmental Association to release about 300 adult male and female river herring into the Swan River in an effort to promote upriver spawning. The dam, located near Montauk Highway in East Patchogue, was built before 1800 to power area mills, but created a blockage, preventing native fish from migrating upstream to spawn. In an effort to restore the lost numbers, Seatuck captured river herring from the Peconic River in Calverton so that they could be placed in the freshwater portion of the Swan River spillway.

The new fish passage will enable the fish to migrate upstream naturally in an overall effort to restore the river herring population in the future.

It’s another step in a townwide effort to restore fish populations, Romaine said. In addition to the passage at Upper Lake, the town has plans for the Peconic River in Calverton, too. 

“It shows you can reverse that impact,” Graves said, of human activity. He said that though river herring is the primary species the passage is being built for, native brook trout will also benefit from the access. “For close to 300 years, the native river herring and brook trout have not been able to get to their spawning grounds in the Swan River,” he said. “But we’ve seen that they try,” he added, noting that he has seen river herring below the spillway, unable to cross. “We know that they still run in the river, so we’re confident that they’ll use it.”

Restoring their populations has other benefits, Graves said, since they are forage species for a variety of wildlife. Birds such as ospreys, bald eagles, herons and egrets feed on these fish, as well as bigger game fish such as trout and bass. “When river herring move out into saltwater once they become a little bit older, they become forage for other marine species, dolphin, tuna and whales,” he said. 

Romaine observed that the project would mark the restoration of an important “ecological connection” between the Swan River and Great South Bay. “We find sometimes that man has come along and disrupted the natural flow,” he said. “I believe the solution to some of the problems in the world is to simplify and return to the natural state.”