It’s spring and that means my parents migrate from Florida back home to the Northeast. But they aren’t the only ones who make great travelers. So too can be said of spawning fish like the shad, salmon, sturgeon and sea lamprey.
For thousands of years, if not longer, these anadromous fish have taken a remarkable journey from the Gulf of Mexico, up the Atlantic, to Long Island Sound, into the mouth of the Connecticut River, and finally reaching Turners Falls, Massachusetts hundreds of miles later. All the while never once complaining about weirs, dams or sluices: industrial-age barriers that helped build our country but impeded natural habitats.
Lucky for them (and us), a series of lifts and ladders built in 1980 at the Turner Falls Fishway and Holyoke Dam have improved their chances of survival and, especially for the American shad, are flourishing as a result.
The shad swim over a series of rising pools in much the same way they would have overcome the natural rises in the river before dams were built. The height of spawning season is goes from mid-May to mid-June, same time as the delicate white blossoms of the shadbush tree.
I was on “mill” assignment in this quaint, historical village on Wednesday and stumbled onto this wonderful vestige before leaving. Like a kid in a candy store, I stood mesmerized by “the fish that fed the nation’s founders” at the free underwater viewing windows in the Fishway building.
Insight was provided by Fishway Guide, Charlie Sampson, who stood vigilant over two mounted cameras counting every spawning fish that successfully made that last hurdle upstream.
A follow-up visit along the bike path to the Great Falls Discovery Center is anticipated this summer. Not to be forgotten are the fishing poles.