Sunday, March 9, 2008

Giving Fish Room To Run


Years ago, many of Long Island's coastal tributaries would be shimmering with excited activity this time of year as the annual alewife runs returned.  The small, silver-sided river herring would herald the arrival of spring as they raced in from the open sea to spawn in the cool, clean freshwater of our rivers and creeks.  Alewife, like salmon, are diadromous, which means they hatch and spend the early part of their lives in freshwater before moving out to live the majority of their lives in the ocean.  When they reach maturity they return to the freshwater systems of their birth to spawn and start the cycle over again.  Along the way, alewife play a vital ecological role -- they are one of the most important forage fish in the sea, feeding larger predators such as striped bass, bluefish, ospreys and seals.  

Unfortunately, alewife, like all diadromous species, have suffered greatly from impacts to coastal freshwater habitats, including blockage of migratory pathways, habitat degradation and declining water quality.  While some alewife runs remain on Long Island, they are only a trickle of what they once were.  

A coalition of organizations, including the South Shore Estuary Reserve Office, has launched an effort to restore alewife runs on Long Island.  The first step is to learn more about existing alewife populations, which is why, for the third year, the coalition will be running the volunteer Alewife Monitoring Survey this spring.

Volunteers are being sought to watch for alewives during the peak of spawning season, from April 1 to May 31.  Individuals from observer teams will take turns looking for fish for fifteen minutes a day (ideally everyday, but at least once each week) in a river or creek near them.  No experience or fish expertise is necessary; a training will be provided for all volunteers.  If you're interested please, contact the South Shore Estuary Reserve Office at (516) 378-2679 or the Seatuck Environmental Association at (631) 581-6908.  More information about the survey is available at the Reserve Office website.

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