Bring “Diadromous Fish” Back to Long Island’s Estuaries And To The Atlantic Seaboard NOW

Now is the time to take down all the ancient dams along our South Shore estuaries.   The alewife, herring, sturgeon and eel, and all the fish that breed in fresh water and live in our oceans have to have the means to swim up river to spawn.   For centuries, we have dammed or streams and rivers.   We have the science, we have the road map.  We just need the awareness and the popular will that comes with that.

Here is a report entitled The Diadromous Fish Study , created by The Long Island Estuary Reserve Council in 2007.    In all it lists six rivers on the south shore of Long Island in Suffolk County — Carll’s River, Brown’s River, Swan River, Mud Creek, Beaver Dam Creek,  and Carmen’s River – and the 29 dams that now block the free flow of water and with that the free flow of fish from the ocean to the bay, to the rivers and upstream.

Recently, Seatuck was able to establish fish ladders on Carll’s River / Argyle Lake.   Now the alewife and other fish have a chance to return.   We need to replicate this — further up Carll’s River where there are other dams, and along these five other rivers listed above, and all along the eastern seaboard where over centuries the damming of rivers has all but eliminated spawning areas for a number of fish species.     We have brought on a collapse of a number of fish populations as a result.    We must act now  to reverse things while that is still possible.  Nature is very forgiving, but only so long as we are kind.   We must give nature a chance, allow the wildlife at least a fighting chance, or make no mistake about it, we are next.

The report — which at 200+ pages is really more of a plan — is very extensive and well researched.   Let’s act on it.    Just as we have let our railways go to rust, our bridges fall apart, our highways degrade into potholes, we have abused and neglected our bays, rivers and ponds because we never priced in the cost of maintaining, upgrading, and modernizing infrastructure.   A 21st Century Long Island needs to embrace it’s natural wealth, or we are all bankrupt.

Here is a screen capture of LISSER’s map of Brown’s River in Sayville, with the dams along Mill Pond and Lotus Lake featured:

Brown's River and its many dams at Mill Pond, Lotus Lake and points north
Brown’s River and its many dams at Mill Pond, Lotus Lake and points north

By just taking down these dams — a 19th Century legacy — what could happen in this small corner of Long Island?  How much more wealthy — in the ecological, spiritual and economic sense — could Sayville become?

Long Island, The Great South Bay, Jamaica Bay, Peconic Bay, Northport Harbor, The Long Island Sound, were in the not too distant past teeming with life.   Boats piled so high with oyster shells you couldn’t even see the cabin.   Hard shell clams to feed the country, and the world.   But with post war ‘development,’ Long Island (this is excluding Queens and Brooklyn) reached a population density that only four countries in the world have attained.  Long Island, if it were a country, would trail Bangladesh for that fourth spot, at roughly 1000 people per square mile.  How can we create a Long Island where fish and wildlife can coexist with such a density of human population?    It’s possible.   In fact, we have really no choice.  We live here.  And future generations will too.   They should be able to fish, clam, swim and boat on our waters, as we had.   Otherwise, what is Long Island?  Why did we choose to live here if not for such natural beauty so close to New York?

The prescription is pretty clear:

1. Pull down the dams, bring back the fish and wildlife.   Over hundreds of years we on Long Island and in communities all along the Eastern Seaboard have put up dams — for mills mostly.   We don’t have mills any more.  We don’t use water for power any more.  Pull them down.   When less than 5% (generously) of our fresh water breeding fish – salmon, herring, eel, etc, etc are left from 100 years ago, how are we not next on the list?   Bring back their habitats.  Let them swim upstream to spawn.   Let our rivers teem again with wildlife.

2. Ban pesticides.   Long Island has some very high cancer rates.   At the same time, we have 112 different pesticides in our ground waters and in our rivers and bays.   Coincidence?   The DDT ban began on Long Island in 1970 with the observation that the osprey population was collapsing due to the fact that the egg shells had become fragile.   That was pegged back to this noxious chemical.   But that was just one substance.   How else are we poisoning our lands and waters?   It is utterly unnecessary except that we have come to fetishize a green lawn and a bug free garden.   Both objectives are obtainable naturally, organically, but who makes money on that?   Long Island is where the green suburban lawn was also born, and the continued cost of that has been tremendous.

3. Let every resident of Suffolk County know what their local environment is like and how it could be improved.    So many of these streams and ponds are invisible to people.   They barely give their very local environments a second thought.  But a dead river, a dead pond or stream, a lifeless marsh also means a community that has been impoverished.   Imagine for instance what property values would be along our estuaries if the fish were jumping, the frogs were croaking, and people could joyfully encounter nature.   All those people whose homes now ring these dying man made lakes across the south shore would be so much better served if we took out those lakes and restored streams.   Much of the lake bottom would revert to wet lands.   A river / stream would run through, along with the trout, eels, alewife, etc.   People would lose a dying lake, and gain a nature preserve.   We can make Long Island a jewel again.   But we must be bold.   There was a Long Island long before we were here.  Let’s bring that back where we can, and we will all benefit.