Although a few stragglers may yet appear here and there in different watersheds, it’s July and the 2015 Connecticut River anadromous-fish-migration season is, for all intents and purposes, over as usual.
A rule of thumb is that once the river temperature stabilizes around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, American shad stop running and start spawning, Atlantic salmon have found or are zeroing in on streams where they’ll reside till fall spawning, and all the rest of the migratory fish, such as herring and lamprey eels, follow similar, run-termination demeanors.
It was a good year by recent standards on the shad front, where a total of 416,346 were counted at three stations in Windsor, Conn., West Springfield and Holyoke, where the lion’s share (412,656) were seen passing the Barrett Fishlift on the Holyoke Dam. Last year’s total of 370,506 was in the same ballpark. Prior to that, over the past 22 years, only the 2012 total of 490,431 tops this year’s, which is the sixth best on record. No. 1 was 720,000 in 1992, followed by 530,000 in 1983, 520,000 in 1991 and 500,000 in 1984.
The total Connecticut River count has not been computed since 2005, when changes to facilities and operations made it impossible to accurately track numbers throughout the river basin. Prior to that, the all-time high total-river run was 1.63 million in 1992, right on the heels of 1991’s runner-up run of 1.57 million. Five other years topped the million mark, with 1.23 in 1984, 1.2 in 1991, 1.14 in 1970, 1.13 in 1971, and 1.11 in 1969.
So what does it all mean? Well, for one thing, there’s still a viable shad fishery here in the Pioneer Valley, and anglers do aggressively pursue the spring sportfishing opportunity, primarily between the Westfield River and Turners Falls. That includes prime Deerfield River fishing opportunity for those who can identify migration channels that attract aggressive, ornery running fish which can be coaxed to strike shiny darts, lures and streamers.
As for salmon, well, the restoration program is over and it’s very illegal to fish for the king of game fish, which could not be brought back to our river in sufficient numbers to justify sportfishing. Which doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared. No, sir. The stubborn wayward travelers keep showing up, albeit in small numbers, yet not that much smaller than the final years of the program’s existence. Thus far, a total of 20 Atlantic salmon have been counted randomly or passing monitoring stations, where most are captured and equipped with tags that allow their movement to be tracked.
You have to wonder when the returns will stop. Or, better still, ponder if perhaps some salmon would have found their way back to the Connecticut one way or another, regardless of an expensive restoration initiative. Although that’s probably a question that’s impossible to answer, my suspicion is that random fish with independent spirit would have found their way back to their historic New England breeding grounds. Why not? The first salmon to find their way up the region’s largest river weren’t born there.
Food for thought.
I suppose it’s time to chime in briefly on the latest eastern cougar twist many readers caught in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago and have ever since asked me about in my travels, email and telephone conversations.
In case you missed it, for the second time in four years, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service took it upon itself to send out a press release reclassifying the Eastern cougars subspecies from endangered to extinct.
My knee-jerk reaction is, “Hey, haven’t we already been through this?”
Hmmmmmmm? Curious indeed.
Not only that but, in case you’ve forgotten, three months after that previous official reclassification in March 2011, lo, a dead, 140-pound cougar showed up as road-kill on a southern Connecticut highway. Oh, but wait a minute. That wasn’t an eastern cougar. It was a wayward western cougar “disperser,” that is a young love-sick whippersnapper forced into eastern maneuvers by dominant male competitors west of here.
The absurdity doesn’t end there. No. Get a load of this. Quoting Cougar Rewilding Foundation expert Helen McGuiness from four years ago, “Eastern and western are NOT separate species. They are not even a subspecies. The comprehensive study of cougar DNA throughout their North, Central and South American range, done by Melanie Culver and associates in 2000, concluded that there are only six subspecies of cougars and only one in North America.”
It gets wilder. According to more than one source, there is today an Ontario, Canada, cougar population of around 400. If the Connecticut cat could wander to the Nutmeg State all the way from South Dakota, what in the world is there to stop Ontario big cats from crossing into the United States and turning up in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and/or Maine? And when that happens, what will the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service call them? Canada cougars? Certainly not eastern cougars. Those are extinct.
What a silly little game of rhetorical semantics, one only government hacks would have the audacity to float through the public square and hope it will stick.
It bounces off of me like a hail pellet.