Upon canal draining in Turners Falls, sea lampreys get help from environmental groups, volunteers

  • Kurt Heidenger of the Biocitizen environmental school in Westhampton holds up a rescued sea lamprey larvae on Monday that will be placed back in the river downstream in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Kurt Heidenger of the Biocitizen environmental school in Westhampton picks up a sea lamprey larvae on Monday that will be placed back in the river downstream in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Sea lamprey larvae, called ammocoetes, spend their first five years in the rivers they were born in.

  • Sea lamprey larvae, called ammocoetes, spend their first five years in the rivers they were born in. These are about 5 inches long. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • People from the Connecticut River Conservancy, the Biocitizen environmental school in Westhampton and the Fort River Watershed Association, along with other volunteers, pick up stranded juvenile sea lampreys from the drained power canal in Turners Falls on Monday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • People from the Connecticut River Conservancy, the Biocitizen environmental school in Westhampton and the Fort River Watershed Association, along with other volunteers, pick up stranded juvenile sea lampreys from the drained power canal in Turners Falls on Monday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Dr. Boyd Kynard, an adjunct professor of environmental conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and volunteers collect hundreds of sea lampreys in the drained Turners Falls power canal on Monday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 9/16/2020 1:37:29 PM

TURNERS FALLS — Experts say that sea lampreys, a parasitic eel that breeds in the Connecticut River Basin, have remained largely unchanged for more than 340 million years and have survived at least four major extinction events. But, to survive the annual draining of the Turners Falls power canal, they need a little help from some friends.

On Monday, local environmental groups and volunteers put on their muck boots and plodded through ankle-deep mud, picking up the stranded, worm-like creatures.

Dr. Boyd Kynard, an adjunct professor of environmental conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and owner of the environmental consulting business BK Riverfish, was the hub of the action. He collected nets full of sea lampreys from the spread-out volunteers, gathering them in an aerated 5-gallon bucket.

“We have the largest breeding population on the East Coast here (in the Connecticut River Basin),” Kynard said. “They are the keystone species for the entire Connecticut River Watershed.”

When the canal is drained each year for maintenance and dredging, most of the fish are able to escape downstream through the open gates at Cabot Station. The sea lampreys, however, are out of luck because they survive the first five years of life by burrowing into the mud, feeding on plankton and organic detritus that drifts by.

Last year, Kynard and his associates saved 2,000 larvae and about 1,000 juveniles that were about to migrate. The Connecticut River Conservancy, Fort River Watershed Association and the Westhampton-based Biocitizen environmental school all had crews picking up the 1- to 5-year-old larvae, called ammocoetes, on Monday.

Kynard said he’ll release the collected sea lampreys downstream in the Connecticut River, where they will find new silt and sand to burrow into and continue to grow.

Reach Paul Franz at 413-772-0261, ext. 266 or pfranz@recorder.com.




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