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Sunderland salmon hatchery turned into mussel research center

  • Dave Perkins, of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service holds a jar with an eastern lampmussel at the Northeast Fish and Aquatic Resources Home Monday, August 15. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Large mouth bass in a tank at the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service's Northeast Fish and Aquatic Resources Home in Sunderland, to be used as host fish for freshwater mussels. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • A bluegill and a small mouth bass in tanks at the research center in Sunderland. They have been inoculated with mussels on their gills. Once the mussels fall off, they will be grown and released back into the wild. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt



Recorder Staff
Tuesday, August 16, 2016

SUNDERLAND — After sitting dormant since 2014, the Sunderland fish hatchery on East Plumtree Road, also known as the Richard Cronin Aquatic Resource Center, has been revitalized and given a new mission.

On Monday, the University of Massachusetts announced that, along with state and federal agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, the school is working to renovate the hatchery as a research and educational facility.

Research so far has focused on augmenting endangered freshwater mussel species and puritan tiger beetle populations, as well as floodplain conservation and climate change work, with the United States Geological Survey in Turners Falls, in the Connecticut River watershed and other regions in the Northeast.

“We are helping to develop techniques for state agencies and wildlife managers to use for mussel conservation,” said Allison Roy, UMass Amherst research assistant professor of environmental conservation, who also works for the U.S. Geological Survey.

For about 30 years, the facility was a national salmon station and hatchery for Atlantic salmon. Before that, it was a state trout hatchery for another 30 years. The hatchery’s salmon mission ended following a decision in 2012 to end federal salmon restoration efforts in the Connecticut River Basin, because of reduced federal budgets and limited results.

The building was “winterized” pending a new mission, and the last remaining salmon eggs were given to the State of Connecticut in December 2013, according to a 2014 news release issued by U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Last spring, the facility was given its new mission.

“Mussels are one of the most imperiled groups of fauna in the Northeast,” Roy said. “We have one federally endangered species and several state species of concern.”

Freshwater mussels, also known as freshwater clams, are filter feeders that keep fresh water clean.

“They have a couple different roles,” explained David Perkins, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and director of the new center. “One, they improve the water quality of our streams, rivers and lakes by filtering massive quantities of water — they’re nature’s sewage treatment plant.”

He also said they’re an important part of the food chain for predators such as heron, otters and muskrats.

To bolster populations, researchers this summer have worked to find optimal environmental conditions for the mussels, such as water temperature, feeding requirements, and host fish identification, which Perkins said juvenile mussels need in order to survive.

“Research has been strong in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest but our program is the first in the Northeast,” Perkins continued. “There are challenges, as each mussel species requires a different host fish to grow and multiply. Some are easy to raise, but some have really stringent requirements.”

Along with the research, Roy said the facility provides a great educational opportunity.

“It’s pretty huge for UMass students because we’ve set it up as a collaborative,” she said, adding that faculty members can assign research for classes, or students can conduct their own research projects.

You can reach Andy Castillo at:
acastillo@recorder.com

or: 413-772-0261, ext. 263

On Twitter: @AndyCCastillo