The sweet aroma of small, white, multiflora-rose blossoms overwhelms Sunken Meadow this week, and the same uplifting scent, accompanied by complementary mock orange and pink weigela, brings refreshing air to my front parlor as well. So I can’t say I’m surprised by the rapid halt to Connecticut Valley anadromous-fish migration, which today is at a near standstill.
Typically, by the time these three sweet June scents reach my La-Z-Boy, the American shad and Atlantic salmon runs have come and gone. This year, the sweetness arrived before the runs stopped. Maybe summer, still three weeks away, is catching up a bit to that early spring we’ve enjoyed since February. Funny how these things seem to regulate themselves by nature’s way over the long haul. Still, I must admit I find it particularly interesting this year. Overnight, the Connecticut River water temperature skyrocketed nearly 12 degrees, and truthfully it|hasn’t even been that hot if you throw out Tuesday, which felt very much like July: hot and sticky under bright, hazy sunshine; conditions conducive to audible springtime grass growth for the most perceptive among us.
Apparently that lusty breath of hot, humid Tuesday air didn’t go unnoticed by that Great River of ours, which on Wednesday stood at a summer-like 73.4 degrees Fahrenheit. One week earlier, on May 23, that same river had finally reached 60, at 61.7, after languishing in the 50s for weeks. What’s unusual is that the 73.4-degree reading followed torrential evening rains that created puddles on many valley basement floors. Hard-rain events like Tuesday’s usually swell rivers and drop their temperature. Not this time, so don’t expect our largest waterway to settle back into the mid-60s. Those temps are history, fellas, and so is the shad run, which must have offered great recreation to anglers last week, not to mention over the three-day holiday weekend.
By now shad-spawning has begun after this lightning-quick transition uncharacteristic of typical years. The annual peak of the shad run always occurs with water temps between 60 and 70 degrees, which typically appear in mid-May and linger for a couple of weeks. Not this year, though, when we were limited to a short peak-week. But what we lost in length we gained in volume, as this year’s run produced the most prolific three- or four-day explosion we’ve experienced in decades, with two straight days exceeding 40,000 through Holyoke last week, unheard of in recent years.
Although it was looking last week like we were heading toward our first shad run of a half-million or more through Paper City since 1992 (720,000), that now appears unlikely, maybe even impossible. The total through Tuesday was 450,00-plus, not bad at all for a run that until last year (244,177) hadn’t drawn 200,000 shad in seven years.
So, is this year’s big run that followed last year’s upsurge a harbinger of an upward trend? Well, apparently no one is willing to jump out onto that flimsy limb just yet. A written query last week to the Connecticut River Coordinator’s office in Sunderland has thus far brought no answers, just acknowledgement that it was received and forwarded to the appropriate source, he unfortunately preoccupied with field research that had taken him away from the office, it closed for the long weekend. So let’s wait and see what the official word is. Perhaps detailed analysis will be forthcoming soon after the final numbers, including the Atlantic salmon returns, are released.
Oh yeah. Speaking of the salmon run — which for decades has been disappointing, to say the least — there is sadly no shad-like surge to report. With the best days behind us, a total of 37 salmon have thus far been counted in the river system. The lion’s share of them (24) were captured at the Holyoke dam and nine were released above it to spawn naturally. The rest are now held captive at the Cronin National Salmon Station in Sunderland, where they will be nursed to optimal health for artificial fall spawning. This year’s other returning salmon showed up at the Leesville Dam (6) on Connecticut’s Salmon River, the Rainbow Dam (4) on Connecticut’s Farmington River, and the West Springfield Project (3) on the Westfield River.
Not one of the free-swimmers above Holyoke has yet passed the dam in Turners Falls, where, as usual, there is weak anadromous-fish passage. Historically, salmon annually reached the headwaters of the Connecticut along the Canadian border as well as all the northern tributaries in Coos country north of Hanover, N.H. On the other hand, shad couldn’t make it past the natural falls at Bellows Falls, Vt. Now, due to dysfunctional fish-passage facilities in Turners Falls, few shad or salmon pass that station. Sadly, it’s unlikely the deficiency will improve any time soon.
Why, you ask? Well, since when do power companies do more than go through the motions to fulfill altruistic promises to the public? As for promises to their shareholders, of course, it’s an entirely different story