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Trout Unlimited receives grant for continuation of spawning study

  • Members of the Deerfield River Trout Unlimited conducting last year’s trout spawning study, which earned the local chapter Trout Unlimited's highest national honor. FILE PHOTO



Recorder Staff
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

To follow up on a first-of-its-kind study that last year found trout successfully spawning in the main stem of the Deerfield River below Fife Brook Dam, Trout Unlimited’s Deerfield River Watershed Chapter has been awarded a $6,000 “Embrace-A-Stream” grant from the national TU organization to partially fund a second phase of the spawning study.

As the local chapter prepares to enter an Internet-driven Embrace-A-Stream Challenge next week, and continue its volunteer-based study this weekend and next, results of the study’s first phase have led to federal regulators calling on Brookfield Power to reconsider operation of its Bear Swamp Pumped Storage and Fife Brook hydroelectric plants. 

Trout Unlimited’s discovery of 101 trout spawning beds — 37 of which contained eggs — in a 7-mile stretch downstream from Fife Brook in Rowe was called “a real big smoking gun” in that re-licensing process, said chapter President Kevin Parsons, because it had been thought that trout spawned only in the river’s tributaries, like Clesson Brook, Avery Brook and Chickley River.

Citing the TU’s initial study results, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife wrote to FERC last January in support of the evidence that daily operations of the dam could be severely hurting the trout population, and that further investigation was needed as part of federal re-licensing.

At TU’s suggestion, FERC instructed Brookfield Power to assess what flows would be needed to adequately cover the redds with water in winter, that its operation is having what he calls “a significant impact” on wild trout in the full 17½-mile river stretch between Fife Brook and Great River Hydro’s No. 4 Dam at the Charlemont-Buckland town line.

This year’s Phase II study will expand from last year’s limited 7 miles of river to the entire 17-mile reach from Fife Brook Dam, to the Number 4 Dam in Buckland, and include other scientific analysis.

Over the next two weekends, volunteers will be marking trout redds and collecting pertinent scientific data to help prove the upper Deerfield can support a robust, wild trout fishery with better and adjusted flows from the hydroelectric operations. Data collected will be used in FERC’s re-licensing process, which is scheduled to end next year and result in new licenses for the dams. 

In an online contest that runs from Monday through Nov. 11, the local chapter will compete against chapters nationwide for the matching challenge grant — providing a piece of up to $50,000 provided by fly-fishing gear outfitter Orvis. 

The 140-member chapter will be asking its members, as well as friends, outdoor enthusiasts and fellow conservationists to donate funds directly to their chapter through the website:  bit.ly/2EQG00j

The grant will help pay for temperature devices and video cameras to record spawning trout and the constant, up-down hydro-peaking flow levels in real time. It will also help pay the salary of a graduate student to facilitate the study.

Last year’s study, the first of its kind on a major Massachusetts river, helped the Deerfield River chapter win the TU’s 2018 Gold Trout Award. That was out of 420 chapters nationally. 

Anyone interested in volunteering in the study may contact the chapter directly by emailing deerfieldrivertu@gmail.com or calling Mike Vito at 413-320-1521.