Tag Archive | "alewives"

On Their Way Home

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Ligonee Creek in Sag Harbor is one of the routes alewives have taken to reach spawning grounds. Volunteers have worked to clear the way for the fish.

Ligonee Creek in Sag Harbor is one of the routes alewives have taken to reach spawning grounds. Volunteers have worked to clear the way for the fish.


By Emily J. Weitz


You don’t hear much about alewife populations on sport-fishing boats in Montauk, and you don’t see alewives on the menu at Sen. These fish are not eaten by humans, so their health and numbers only impacts us in an indirect way. But they are excellent indicators of the overall health of our environment, as they are integral to the survival of many other species.

“It’s like a Jenga game,” says Laura Stephenson, who will be leading an educational hike sponsored by SOFO next week. “You take one out and everything falls. Alewives are one integral part of the ecosystem for the larger fish. They’re food for birds and larger fish, and we use them as bait fish.”

In recent years, environmentalists have become well aware of the importance of alewives, and of their plight.

“It’s a big thing right now,” says Stephenson. “Getting alewives up the river is a hot item in the environmental world.  People are recognizing the dwindling numbers of alewives.”

Alewife restoration projects have had great success in other regions, and currently there is an effort to restore alewives in the Peconic River. The reason for these successes is simple: we know what is standing in the way of a thriving alewife population. It’s us.

“These fish don’t live in our waters,” says Stephenson. “They live in salt water. But they come to fresh water to spawn. They have their babies in the fresh water and then return to the salt water. Then they come back to the place they were born to spawn again.”

This migration traverses hundreds of miles, taking the alewives from their birthplace at Long Pond or another freshwater body all the way up to the northern Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Maine or Canada.

“There are historical records that the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt have found that say there were alewives back in the 1600s and 1700s,” says Stephenson. “Then, when they built the turnpike and the old railroad, it cut off access to Long Pond. The alewives come through Peconic Bay, through Sag Harbor Cove, and they want to make it to Long Pond.”

Some years, they can still make it. When the groundwater is high, like in 2010, after a lot of snow, the alewives can win the uphill battle to Long Pond, said Stephenson.

“But if they have blocked access, they won’t make it back there,” she said. “If they can’t make it back, they can die trying. Last year we saw a lot of deaths as they tried to make it to Ligonee Creek (which leads to Long Pond). The problem is there are so many polluted water bodies and so many bodies that have been cut off, that there is a limited number of good spawning places.”

Long Pond is one of them – Stephenson says it’s one of the few water bodies of its kind.

“Surrounded by undeveloped land, pristine, with great water quality,” she says. “We’ve got a lot going for us here.”

One of the best things we have going is that, even though there are obstacles to the restoration of alewives at Ligonee Creek and Long Pond, these obstacles are surmountable.

“Ligonee is a great case,” says Stephenson. “There are a lot of small problems that need fixing. There are little culverts that need to be fixed and replaced. Ligonee has two or three undersized culverts leading up to Long Pond.”

If these culverts were replaced by larger ones, the alewives could get through.

“When the roads were put in,” says Stephenson, “they didn’t think about the fish. They wanted to move the water under the road, so they put in whatever would work best to move the water fastest without thinking about the fish.”

Another issue is the height issue: the fish can’t get up into the freshwater bodies.

“If we build a rock ramp with resting pools, these fish will be able to get up. Anything higher than six inches, they can’t make it.”

At the hike this weekend, Stephenson will take participants past Ligonee Creek right at the time they are making their migration. They will probably see the fish not being able to make it over, and Stephenspon hopes this will raise awareness about the plight of the alewives.

“These fish travel so far,” she says. “And their life span is so short. They come back to where they were born to spawn, and if they don’t have that opportunity, it’s a waste of the species.”

Laura Stephenson will lead a hike past Ligonee Creek to discuss alewives on Saturday, April 14. Meet at 10 a.m. at SOFO.


Something Fishy: Hundres of Alewives High and Dry

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Heller_Dead Fish in Ligonee Creek_0152

By Claire Walla

The first thing you’d notice is the smell.

Last week, the small stretch of Brick Kiln Road that passes over Ligonee Brook in Sag Harbor gave off a stultifying scent as pungent as a sushi shop in August without central air.

It caught Richard Sawyer off guard.

“I never would have noticed it if I was driving,” Sawyer said. But last Tuesday, April 19, Sawyer had dropped his auto off at the Getty station and was forced to stroll home en plein air. After investigating the stench, he stumbled on something quite strange.

“I had never seen so many dead fish before in my life!” he exclaimed over the phone.

Peering over the edge of the road and into the shallow creek bed, last week one could have seen hundreds of lifeless fish lying immobile in the mostly dry creek.

As of last Thursday, the scaly creatures were still relatively whole, although many were decapitated.

“They weren’t yesterday,” said Fred Werner, who was passing through the area last Thursday, April 21 on his habitual midday commute back to his home in Noyac from the Sag Harbor Post Office.

“Yesterday, they were all in one piece,” he exclaimed. “They looked like they had just lain down and died.”

Larry Penny of the East Hampton natural resources department said the situation peaked his interest, although he had no prior knowledge of the fish.

“I noticed something funny there when we got that big rain,” Penny said of the downpour that drenched the village April 17. “The water was up over the road.”

While on the phone, Penny checked the notebook in which he records rainfall measurements and said he recorded two inches of precipitation that Sunday.

According to Penny, and according to Fred Werner’s son, Alex (an avid Sag Harbor-based fishermen), the carcasses in question are almost certainly alewives, which are typically seen in their greatest numbers mid-April.

Penny explained that alewives seek fresh water in order to spawn, which might explain why they were in Ligonee Brook, a tributary of fresh-water-basin Long Pond. Because of record rainfalls last year, Penny said the fish — typically concentrated in the North Sea area — were actually found in Long Pond last year.

“They have to spawn in fresh water, and then they have to leave. It’s conceivable that they had spawned and were leaving,” Penny said. But, he added, it’s more likely the alewives were still on their way in when water levels dropped and they met their demise.

“It can happen real quick,” he said of the drainage.

Though from the looks of it, such a massacre may seem to indicate all is not well for the alewife population, but Alex Werner believes the contrary to be true.

“Having a school of alewives in [Sag Harbor] Bay is good,” Werner said, because alewives are typically prey for bigger, more coveted fish for local anglers.

“It means the bigger fish are right behind them,” he added. “It’s the first sign of spring.”

Hashing out the Gateway

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Although the Town of Southampton is busy with budgetary issues, with the November 20 deadline looming for the tentative town budget, board members had time to hear the opinions of residents, experts and neighbors talk about the Sag Harbor Gateway Study.

At Tuesday’s public hearing, members of the community as well as home and business owners in the ‘gateway’ area along the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike spoke about their concerns regarding the current zoning, which is Highway Business. The Gateway Study proposes to change the zoning in the area from a highway business to a hamlet office zone.

The first to speak at the hearing was Katherine Reid, proprietor, with her sons, of Reid Brothers, Inc., who said that, although she spoke at the last meeting and said she thought the decision to change the zoning where her property lies was “un-American,” she is still upset. She sold her house in another part of Long Island in 1984 to buy this property in Sag Harbor, she said, because of the potential to make more money if a business was allowed. “I’m being gypped out of my money,” she said on Tuesday.

Sandra Ferguson, of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, told the town board about the importance of protecting Ligonee Brook. She said the brook is part of the Long Pond Greenbelt, a natural system of streams, ponds, and swamps that connects Sag Harbor to Sagaponack. Ferguson said the brook plays an important function for eel and alewives. She also explained that there are wet and dry seasons of the brook, which is why sometimes it looks like it isn’t flowing. Ferguson also gave a report to the board detailing a walk she took through the area with other experts and trustees, that highlighted the wetlands they were speaking about.

Robert Reid, owner of the Reid Brothers, an auto repair business along the Turnpike, said that if something were to change with the zoning, it should be something that should benefit the community as a whole.

“I hope you understand that when you change the zoning, you are taking something away from somebody that is valuable,” he said to the board.

Sag Harbor resident Priscilla Ciccariello argues that there are many environmental aspects, such as being adjacent to the Long Pond Greenbelt, that make the zoning change a concern for other residents. She also said that if the proposed five properties outlined in the gateway study were developed in this area, traffic would increase by 200 percent on the Turnpike.

A neighbor of the Bay Burger, Bette Lacina said that she would also support the change to hamlet office, because if it weren’t changed, Bay Burger could become a nightclub or other loud venue. The restaurant is her next door neighbor and she would prefer it remain a less intrusive business.

John Landis, owner of Bay Burger, said on Tuesday, “When we purchased the property, we did rely on what the zoning was and what we may be able to do in the future.” But he also added, “Couldn’t the gateway study include an addition, a possibility of hamlet office and residential to highway business.” Landis asked about a “bubble approach” a possibility supervisor Linda Kabot said may be feasible, where the town may consider a Planned Development District, (PDD), which would allow for a combination of highway business and hamlet office.

Sag Harbor resident Dean Golden said that he owns two of the four properties that will be surrounded by new zoning. He said his neighbors, the Fabiano family, expressed their interest in the rezoning of the area. But Golden also said he would be a proponent of a car wash, an earlier plan the Reid family had proposed. He said that many ideas proposed for nearby property owned by brothers Pat and Mike Trunzo, which included affordable housing, will also still be allowed under hamlet office, but he said to the board, “what you are doing is fine, but I am concerned for the Reids.”

Jeremy Samuelson, from  Group for the East End, hung up three posters at Tuesday’s meeting showing what would be allowed under hamlet office and what is allowed under highway business. And then he showed what could be allowed under the special exceptions category. Under highway business, he said the town would be walking away from things like taxicab services and mobile home dealers. Allowed under hamlet office are things like, physicians’ offices, dentists, and professional organizations.

After a few other speakers, representing their arguments for or against the study, councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst read a statement by Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., saying he would like to support the gateway study.

The meeting was adjourned and will be revisited at a meeting November 25.