Public explores Turners Falls ‘Fish Lab’ during open house

  • Liam Lepage, 3, looks at fish in an observation tank set up during the open house at the Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Laboratory on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 in Turners Falls. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Nate Black looks at a research tank filled with Atlantic sturgeon with his two sons Wesley, 4, and Luke, 6, inside the physiology wet lab at the open house of the Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Laboratory on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 in Turners Falls. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • David and Christine Tirrell look at a research tank filled with Atlantic sturgeon with their son Jack Tirrell, 10, inside the physiology wet lab at the open house of the Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Laboratory on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 in Turners Falls. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Visitors look in a research tank with short nose sturgeon and an eel set up for the open house of the Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Laboratory on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 in Turners Falls. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Hydraulic engineer John Noreika shows a hydraulic model of the flume building with fish passage devices during the open house at the Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Laboratory on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 in Turners Falls. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Hydraulic engineer John Noreika shows a hydraulic model of the flume building with fish passage devices during the open house at the Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Laboratory on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 in Turners Falls. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • The Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Laboratory on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 in Turners Falls. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • The flume facility at the Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Laboratory on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 in Turners Falls. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

Recorder Staff
Published: 10/14/2017 6:51:42 PM

TURNERS FALLS — Adria Elskus says that when people hear she works at ‘The Fish Lab,’ they often think of the Turners Falls Fishway at the gatehouse, or the Great Falls Discovery Center. But her job is somewhere else entirely.

Elskus is director of the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Laboratory, located at 1 Migratory Way. “The Fish Lab,” for short, conducts research to address the challenges fish face as they swim up and down rivers and streams, negotiate dams, move between fresh water and salt water, and face increasing water temperatures in the Connecticut River.

Hoping to raise awareness of its work, the lab offered an open house Saturday for the first time since 2009. Visitors toured the facilities and learned from USGS scientists about their fish passage research.

“We want people to know we’re here,” Elskus said. “We also want people to know where their tax dollars are going.”

The scientists, Elskus said, are driven by a goal of restoring recreational and commercial fishing, as fish species have been in decline for more than 100 years. Elskus noted how for 80 years, the first Atlantic salmon caught in Maine’s Penobscot River was presented to the United States president, but the tradition ended in 1992.

“At that point, the population had dropped so drastically that they couldn’t even spare one to give to the president,” she said. “Atlantic salmon are pretty much gone from this river now, but they’re all in decline … We want to restore them so people can know these fish will be around for generations to come.”

The lab’s research about fish stressors, like dams and rising temperatures, inform management decisions by government agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Elskus said.

During the open house, Ben Letcher shared information about his ecological research through graphs that chart precipitation, flow and temperature of a river or stream over time that would affect the fish population. However, he said his favorite part of the open house was the stories guests brought him, recounting how one woman shared her memories of visiting the Sawmill River when she was younger.

“She was psyched to see that there was documentation of what was happening to the stream,” Letcher said.

After viewing the seven stations at “The Fish Lab,” guests had different opinions on their favorite parts, but they agreed to having learned something new.

“I’ve lived here for years and it’s the first time I’ve been to this complex,” Montague Center resident Craig Belliveau said. “It’s very, very impressive.”

Belliveau said he enjoyed seeing the sturgeon, and though he’s been fishing on the Connecticut River since 1970, didn’t know there were sturgeon there.

Belliveau brought along his step-brother Bill Rosenau and Bill’s wife Rhea, as well as his step-sister Thea Prostko. The Rosenaus and Prostko were visiting from Wautoma, Wis. and Northampton, Pa., respectively.

“I never knew you could count the ear bones on a fish to find out how old they were,” Rhea Rosenau said, recounting what she learned. “That was fascinating.”

Her husband shared how he learned fish could change genders as a result of man-made chemicals in their habitats.

“It was kind of eye-opening about how much of an impact we’re having,” he said.

Reach Shelby Ashline at: sashline@recorder.com

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