Fish Study Grant awarded from Westchester Community Foundation

Groundwork Hudson Valley
is pleased to announce that a $30,000 grant has been received from Westchester Community
Foundation to conduct a comprehensive
fish study of the Saw
Mill River
in 2008.

The river has been home
to over 20 species of fish and was widely known among Northeastern
Native
Americans as the “Great Fishing Trap” because of its abundance of fish.
The
river’s fish help maintain its ecological balance and serve as
indicators of
its overall health. Nevertheless water monitoring results and fish
studies
conducted over the last two decades indicate that fish diversity is
declining,
and existing fish populations diminishing in number. Through our
proposed
partnership with Hudsonia as well as continued collaboration with
biologists
and ecologists from the County and Lehman College
and students from Saunders High School
and Manhattan College,
we will undertake a thorough study of the fish that migrate to and from
and live and spawn in the Saw Mill River. This project will address the
problem of inadequate data on the river’s aquatic life and will present
opportunities to restore and improve biodiversity in the stream and
contribute
to the overall wellbeing of the watershed. Specifically:

1. Develop comprehensive
data on the river’s fish populations.
This project builds on three previous
fish surveys; one conducted in 1936 (Greely) and two others undertaken by Ferry
Sloop (Saw Mill River Coalition precursor) and fish biologist Antonios
Pappantoniou at Lehman
College in 1989 and 2003
respectively. (The latter study was funded by Beczak with a grant from New
York State.)
Though valuable, the results of the last two studies were limited, as noted by
Dr. Pappantoniou in the 2003 final report. Sites were surveyed 2-4 times and
samples were taken in one season only. Our survey will be significantly more comprehensive: we will target more sites (11+),
survey each site at least 12 times, and conduct tests in spring, summer, and
fall. The study will provide the first comprehensive
description of the variety of fish in the river as well as each species
approximate numbers. The methods used will also allow us to develop, for the
first time, preliminary data on other stream life, including aquatic insects,
amphibians and mollusks.

 2. Improve restoration efforts. Over the last three years,
WCF helped GWY and the Coalition establish a very successful, ongoing
biodiversity initiative focused on riparian restoration (River RATz—Restoration
Action Team), citizen observations (website blog), and removing invasive vines
that threaten native trees and plants and the insects, birds, and mammals that
depend on them. These past efforts, together with the knowledge gained during
this fish study will give us a broader and more integrated view of the
condition of the whole watershed and help us institute increasingly targeted,
effective, and integrated restoration projects.

 3. Influence the daylighting design. With the river’s
biodiversity diminishing and its daylighting soon to begin, we must move
quickly to determine what fish are in the river and use the results to ensure
the engineering design for opening up the river in Yonkers promotes
aquatic diversity and allows for migrating fish to thrive.

 
The objectives of the fish study are to:

1. Complete a comprehensive survey by October 2008, including:

 (a) A general survey of fish and other aquatic life along
the length of the river: We will survey each site in the spring, summer, and
fall. Since fish move in and out of the tributary and inhabit different river
sections at different times, the multi-season approach is essential to ensure comprehensive data. Fish will be collected using
electroshock and with seines (5’ long nets weighted at the bottom with floaters at the top) set at each location
and will be identified, measured, weighed, and then set free. Kick boxes will
be used to catch and record the existence of other aquatic life. These are the
same methods are accepted practice for this type of study and were employed in
the 1989 and 2003 studies.

 (b) A targeted study, conducted in the lower river (below
mile 3.2) of the prevalence of the American Eel: American eels are partially
dependent on Hudson River tributaries for
juveniles to grow and mature. The daylighting project may encourage migrations
of the eel up the river. Targeted surveys are required to determine the
presence and prevalence of this species in the river and Robert Schmidt and his
team from Hudsonia will conduct
these surveys. Hudsonia will test 4 sites below Yonkers Water Works Dam (3.2
miles from mouth) using a backpack
electro shocker. Mr. Schmidt considers this the only appropriate collection
method for eels since they cannot easily be caught in nets. If adequate numbers
are present, Hudsonia will estimate population using a depletion method –
shocking each location 3 times, and removing eels each time an area is shocked.
Eels will be counted, measured, and released.

 (c) A targeted study of migratory fish at the river’s mouth:
One of the important roles of the Hudson River
tributaries is as spawning areas for an array of anadromous
and potamodromous fish. To date, no
one has sampled a tributary that empties into the saline portion of the Hudson for migratory fish.
Tributary spawning occurs in the spring. It will be valuable to learn if
migratory species are present in the mouth of the river to predict what species
may use the river mouth once daylighting is complete.
The Hudsonia team will sample the tidal mouth of river 4 times to capture migratory
fish. Sampling will be done using gill nets in April and May. Nets will be set
on an incoming tide and retrieved at
high tide. Similar sampling in other tributaries has shown that these species
follow the tide into tributary mouths. Fish will be identified, measured and
released if possible. Catch per unit effort will be calculated and compared to other Hudson River
tributary studies.

 2. Complete a
report by December 2008, including findings and a comparison
of results with prior studies, and distribute the report to local decision
makers and planners, developers, other Coalition members, and nonprofits.

 3. Complete a
protocol for future fish monitoring efforts and distribute it to local decision
makers and planners, developers, other Coalition members, and nonprofits. The
protocol will assign tasks to appropriate organizations and/or consultants and
will include a timeline for implementation and a schedule for continued
monitoring.

 4. Using survey results raise awareness among developers,
municipal decision makers, and community
members about the current state and needs of the river’s fish populations in
order to proactively

           (a) Inform
the environmental impact review of the daylighting project,

           (b) Influence
the daylighting design so that it protects and improves river habitat,           
           (c) Through one–on-one and group
meetings and community forums, promote policies that protect and restore the fish
populations and habitat along the stream’s length.

 5. Educate and train 30-40 high school students, 2-4 college
students, and 3-5 volunteers in  stream
ecology, survey methodology, testing techniques, and data analysis in order to
broaden participants’ understanding of the interdependence of ecosystems along
the Saw Mill River and make them more knowledgeable and forceful advocates for
the protection of the river.

For more information, or to find out
how to participate, email or call Ann-Marie Mitroff, Director of River
Programs, (914) 375-2151 or annmarie@groundworkyonkers.org

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