The Nature Conservancy and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Announce Partnership to Create Beaver Lake Fish Passage

Fish Passage Will Restore Migratory River Herring Access to Upstream Habitat

The Nature Conservancy and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today announced a joint project to open up a coastal waterway to migratory fish. The fishway construction project at Beaver Lake dam in Mill Neck began in July and will be completed this month. The project will ensure that migratory river herring (Blueback herring and Alewife) have access to essential freshwater spawning habitat. These fish are not jumpers and therefore even the smallest dams, such as the Beaver Lake dam, prevent the fish from spawning.

“Over decades, the population of these important fish species has declined, partly due to the limited amount of spawning habitat,” said Sally Harold, project manager for The Nature Conservancy. “Restoring fish passage helps to sustain populations of migratory fish like river herring that are critical forage fish for recreationally and commercially important fish (such as tuna and striped bass), sustain birds such as osprey, heron and eagles, and terrestrial mammals as well. Returning these fish to their historic spawning grounds is one small step in returning the health and abundant biodiversity of the Long Island Sound.”

DEC Deputy Commissioner Kathleen Moser, Office of Natural Resources, said, “The installation of a fishway at Beaver Lake dam will enhance the ecological vitality of the Mill Neck Creek and Oyster Bay watershed by opening up 1.5 miles of stream corridor and 110 acres of associated wetlands to migratory fish. This project is a model for how state and local governments can work with the non-profit sector to restore and enhance Long Island’s, and the State’s, ecological treasures.”

Beaver Lake was once an estuary open to Long Island Sound, but as the area developed, a dam was constructed to hold back water in the estuary and create what we now know as Beaver Lake. The dam was enough of a barrier that during most flows, migratory fish were unable to get over the dam. There is no freshwater for spawning below the dam.

Initial efforts to restore fish passage at the dam began in 2003 but it wasn’t until 2014 when The Nature Conservancy secured funding through the NFWF Long Island Sound Futures Fund that necessary engineered plans were developed and permits secured. Additional support for the project was secured through Friends of the Bay and a grant secured through USFWS, DEC, The Nature Conservancy and private donors. DEC provided $37,265 in state funds for the project. Construction began this month and is expected to be completed before fall. Cornell Cooperative Extension Service and Hofstra University, project partners, will monitor fish passage at the site during the spring migration.

“With this project we celebrate opening up habitat that has been blocked for nearly 100 years,” said Harold, who has managed numerous river habitat projects for the Conservancy in its Connecticut chapter, where she is based.

Long Island Sound is fed by hundreds of small streams that once provided access into bigger freshwater systems where migratory fish spawn. With settlement and industrialization these rivers became closed for passage, sometimes at the head-of-tide where tide mills or ice ponds were established or further upstream where sufficient power could be generated by a river’s energy to fuel a forge or mill operation.

The Nature Conservancy was awarded two grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund to design fish passage at the dam and to construct the project. The project is one of 22 grants totaling nearly $1.3 million awarded for community-based efforts to improve Long Island Sound’s ecosystem. The team responsible for accomplishing this work includes DEC, Friends of the Bay, and both the Long Island and Connecticut Chapters of The Nature Conservancy.

Additional funding to support the project includes USFWS, USDOJ and private donors. Chesterfield Associates is the contractor completing the work and the engineer in charge is Fuss and O’Neill, Inc out of Manchester, CT.