The new fishway is in part a result of Maryland's fish passage program that stemmed from the 1987 Chesapeake Bay Agreement to restore the health of the bay. The program seeks to restore migratory fish species to or close to historic levels. The program began in 1988 and since then 292 miles of rivers in Maryland have reopened to fish. However, shad populations are still in bad shape. In a recent ranking of the health of bay fish by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, shad received a ranking of 3 out of 100. Experts said that the new fishway will make a huge difference in future ranking of the shad. The fishway at the Little Falls Dam is the latest in a series of dams in the Potomac basin modified to assist fish migration. Other nearby sites include: Mattawoman Creek, Hancock Run, Rock Creek, and the Northeast and Northwest branches of the Anacostia River.
|From inside the cofferdam, views of the Little Falls pumping Station, and below the dam, |
the beginning of the mile-long section of Little Falls.
In 1995, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) began working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and citizen volunteers on a project to restock shad to the Potomac. The project is lead by Jim Cummins, an aquatic biologist with ICPRB. Each spring during shad spawning season, he and volunteer assistants catch shad on the Potomac near Mount Vernon. The fish are squeezed of their eggs and milt. The fertilized eggs are taken to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's National Fish Hatchery in Charles City, Virginia. After hatching, the shad fry are tagged for future identification with a chemical substance (oxytetracycline). This leaves a fluorescent trace that will be detectable in certain tiny bones in the heads of the fish, even as adults.
|Workmen observing the proceedings.||Digging from the river bottom in the fishway notch.|
This spring, Jim Cummins and his volunteers are again out on the river in the stocking effort and to see if any of the shad broods have returned to spawn. Experts are confident that the fishway will assist in the restoration of the shad population and other migratory species including river herring, striped bass, white perch, and resident species such as smallmouth and largemouth bass, bluegill and other sunfish, and walleye.
Construction of the notch was completed just in time for this spring's mighty spawning runs.
-- Re-written by David Winer from official materials and from interviews. Thanks to the following who provided information and photos for this piece: Curtis Dalpra and Jim Cummins, Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin; Mike Bailey, "a friend of the shad"; and Ray Fletcher of Fletcher's Boats.