Fish Passage Project on Mattabesset River Will Open Valuable Habitat for Wildlife

Contractors have started building a major fishway on the Mattabesset River, a Connecticut River tributary.

NEW HAVEN, CT | September 26, 2012

Work is now underway on a state-of-the-art fishway on the Mattabesset River in East Berlin. Led by The Nature Conservancy’s Connecticut Program in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), the project will help American shad, river herring and other migratory species reach prime habitat upstream from the fishway, in the Mattabesset River and its tributaries.

Site preparation was done in recent weeks; construction is expected to take 4-6 weeks.

“It’s really exciting that we’ve broken ground and that next spring the schools of fish seen below the dam will have an opportunity to continue upstream,” said Sally Harold, the Conservancy’s Connecticut director of migratory fish projects. “This project has been discussed for more than a decade; so many partners have helped along the way. It’s incredibly gratifying to see this get underway.”

The large“U”-shaped fishway is being built around a dam owned by StanChem, an East Berlin-based polymer company. The dam creates a pond that is important for StanChem because it can be tapped as a water supply for emergency fire suppression. StanChem has fully endorsed construction of the fishway around the dam—known as High Pond Dam—to maintain this safety function while also providing important ecological benefits.

“We see this as a ‘best-of-both-worlds’ solution,” said Jack Waller, president of StanChem. “It’s really an ideal outcome. All of our employees are anxiously awaiting next spring, when we see the results of this wonderful project. It has been our pleasure to work with The Nature Conservancy and the DEEP during the design and build of this fishway.”

The DEEP will maintain a fish-run monitoring station at the site. During spring spawning season, the DEEP will utilize video monitoring equipment positioned in a counting house with a window into the fishway to gather information on the timing of the runs, the species using the fishway, and the number of fish passing through it. This information will be included in the Department’s weekly “No Fish Left Behind” reports, which provide information on the monitored fish runs across the state.

The $415,000 budget includes a $308,000 state Ecosystem Management & Habitat Restoration grant and a $10,000 contribution from the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership through Northeast Utilities. Private donations to The Nature Conservancy help to cover the additional expenses.

“Runs of migratory fish were an amazingly abundant natural resource for Native Americans and the early colonists in this area, but the construction of dams to power mills blocked the spawning runs and resulted in the demise of many runs,” said Steve Gephard, supervising fisheries biologist for the DEEP. “Our agency is committed to restoring these runs whenever possible and that means that we have to get the fish around these dams that must remain. We are very appreciative of The Nature Conservancy’s leadership for this very important project that will help us reach our goals on the Mattabesset River.”

DEEP Commissioner Daniel C. Esty will be highlighting the important natural resources of the Mattabesset River on Tuesday, Oct. 2. On that day Esty is bringing his “Commissioner In Your Corner “ tour to the river, where he will paddle the Mattabesset River Canoe/Kayak Trail from Cromwell to Middletown and then host a celebration and speaking program at Harbor Park, Middletown, at 5 p.m.

The Long Pond Dam project is the third fish passage project for the Conservancy in collaboration with the DEEP this summer. In August, the partners finished a fish ladder at Wequetequock Pond Dam on Anguilla Brook in Pawcatuck. The partners also removed an obsolete 19th century mill dam upstream with enthusiastic support from property owners, Bill and Linda Rutan. The work on Anguilla Brook opened the 13-square-mile watershed to the benefit of native brook trout, American eel and migrating alewife. Nearby residents will benefit too—the dam was at risk of failure.

The Northeast has some of the nation’s most fragmented river systems, with an average of seven dams in every 100 miles of river.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at To learn about the Conservancy’s global initiatives, visit To keep up with current Conservancy news, follow @nature_press on Twitter.

Contact information

James Miller
Media Relations Manager

Sally Harold
Director of Migratory Fish Projects


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