Tuesday, July 6, 2010

PECO's new fish ladder at Black Rock on the Schuylkill

The shad WILL return to the Schuylkill!

Many of you may recall the post below from 2008, which details the now completed and functional PECO fish ladder at Black Rock on the Schuylkill River.


Due to scheduling problems my interview with the PECO officials has been delayed, but here is the Pottstown Mercury article updating us on the opening of the facility.


New fish ladder at Black Rock Dam hopes to bring shad back to area
Tuesday, July 6, 2010

By Evan Brandt, ebrandt@pottsmerc.com

PHOENIXVILLE — How do you get a fish to climb a ladder? Why, you build it, of course.

That's what's going on right now at the Black Rock Dam where a new fish passageway, which will allow migratory fish such as American shad to continue farther upstream to spawn, was dedicated earlier this month.

The ladder was actually completed and opened last spring, but the dedication was timed with two others to highlight recreational opportunities and land preservation efforts along the Schuylkill River.

A result of cooperation between Exelon Power and Chester County, the project was celebrated the same day as open space purchases connecting French Creek State Park and the Schuylkill River Trail in Union Township, Berks County, and the beginning of construction of a portion of the Schuylkill River Trail that will stretch from the Phoenixville borough line to Parker Ford in East Coventry. All are associated in one way or another with the ribbon of water with the Dutch name meaning "hidden river."

When Europeans first arrived in North America, the rivers were teeming with fish, including shad, a migratory species that, like salmon, is spawned in fresh water, spends much of its adult life in salt water, but returns to freshwater streams and rivers to reproduce.

It is said that a spring run of shad saved Washington's army at Valley Forge, but that claim has since proved to be undocumented in any original historical sources; although, that has not kept it from being repeated often.

Whether those Valley Forge soldiers gorged on shad or not does not undermine the importance the fish had as a food source for early colonial Pennsylvanians. In fact, so effective were the downstream fishermen in the 1700s that upstream communities began complaining of scarcity and limits were enacted.

Shad fishing was so important in Colonial days that as early as 1683 laws were being passed to prevent the overfishing of the river, as well as to prevent fish dams from making the river unnavigable, according to the Historical Society of Montgomery County.

Once the Schuylkill Navigation Company began building dams and locks in 1818 to make the Schuylkill traversable, the conflict disappeared because the dams blocked the spring run of shad. The importance of navigation had trumped the importance of the fishery.

With the only craft now plying the Schuylkill's waters being of the pleasure variety, efforts are being made, albeit slowly, to make the river home once again to the shad. Fish passages, ladders and other methods to allow fish to swim upstream past dams have been installed over the years.

Fairmount Dam in Philadelphia has a vertical slot fishway in place and was rebuilt in recent years.

At Flat Rock Dam, near Bala Cynwyd, construction of a fish ladder was completed in 2005.

In 2008, Exelon Power opened a similar fish passageway farther upstream on the Schuylkill at the Norristown Dam.

Construction on the Black Rock fish passageway began in February 2008 and was completed in the spring of 2009 in time for the shad migration.

The design of the passageway incorporates some of the existing historical materials used in construction of the Schuylkill navigation's lock and canal system, using elements from the system that cut the shad off from their spawning grounds to restore that same access.

A camera system was also installed in the passageway for counting the shad and other species that use it.

The installation of this passageway, often called a ladder, combined with the recent breaching and removal of the Vincent Dam will now allow shad and other migratory fish to swim as far upstream as Pottstown and Birdsboro, as well as the creeks and streams that feed the Schuylkill.

Because the Delaware River has never had a major dam built upon it, it still supports a population of native shad; although, they must swim farther upstream to find clear water in which to spawn. This presumably means they will also find their way into the Schuylkill and its tributaries.

They are valued as a fighting sport fish. One New Jersey fishing website described them this way: "These strong, salty soldiers offer some of the best battles on the river, especially on light tackle. Even devoted hunters of the celebrated trout have been known to yield to the hearty pursuit of shad during the first months of spring!"

"Migratory fish, such as the American shad, are a vital part of Pennsylvania's natural, cultural and economic heritage," Doyle Beneby, president of Exelon Power, said in a prepared statement. "We're pleased to join the effort to help preserve and restore that heritage."

The dam and passageway are adjacent to the 119-acre Black Rock Sanctuary, a wildlife sanctuary and preserve created in 2003 and 2004 at a cost of $1.09 million which transformed the former "silt basins" created when coal silt was removed from the Schuylkill in the 1930s, into 24 new wetland areas favored by waterfowl.

The fish passageway "is a great example of the many ways that our parks and recreation staff focus on the habitats of all our park locations," Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone said during the dedication earlier this month.

"Chester County Parks encompass more than 4,500 acres and, in addition to providing wonderful recreational opportunities, they are also maintained and developed to preserve the natural and cultural history of Chester County, said county commissioners' Chairwoman Carol Aichele.

For more on local fishing, visit our TownSquare blog Troutrageous.

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