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Helping fish climb the ladder

  • Students in the Biocitizen School out of Westhampton, dedicated to field environmental philosophy and education, visit renowned anadromous fish expert Boyd Kynard who is studying shortnose sturgeon in his Millers Falls facility BK-Riverfish LLC. July 11, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—

  • Students in the Biocitizen School out of Westhampton, dedicated to field environmental philosophy and education, visit renowned anadromous fish expert Boyd Kynard who is studying shortnose sturgeon in his Millers Falls facility BK-Riverfish LLC. July 11, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...

  • Students in the Biocitizen School of Westhampton, dedicated to field environmental philosophy and education, visit anadromous fish expert Boyd Kynard, who is studying shortnose sturgeon in his Millers Falls facility BK-Riverfish LLC. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Anadromous fish expert Boyd Kynard is studying shortnose sturgeon in his Millers Falls facility BK-Riverfish LLC. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—



Recorder Staff
Friday, July 13, 2018

MILLERS FALLS — “If I can get anything over to you that is of value, it’s to have a conservation ethic,” said Amherst-based biologist Boyd Kynard to a group of students visiting his lab in Millers Falls. “We must live with a conservation ethic. If we don’t, we have no chance at all for survival. None. Not for (the fish) and not for us.”

Kynard spent most of his career researching migratory fish as a professor at the University of Massachusetts and working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. About eight years ago, after retiring from professorial work, he and his son Brian Kynard started a research and development business building “fish ladders” — slatted water channels that allow fish to climb upriver around dams or other obstructions that may be disrupting their migratory paths.

“We’re trying to develop something that we think has conservation value,” Kynard said. “We hope that the agencies will say ‘yes.’”

The students at Kynard’s lab on Wednesday were from Biocitizen, a summer “environmental philosophy” program based in Westhampton. “Essentially what we do,” said Kurt Heidinger, the director of the program, “is we let them loose (in a natural environment), and things just happen. They’ll find a turtle, or they’ll find a lot of garbage, what have you, and that begins an inquiry and they start talking to each other.”

They try to cover as much of the Pioneer Valley as they can in the space of a week, Heidinger said.

Kynard was telling the students about the sturgeon fish population in the Connecticut River, which is down to about 2,500. It should be around 12,000. That decline, Kynard said, is largely due to the Holyoke Dam, which prevents the sturgeons from swimming upriver to their spawning grounds, near Rock Dam in Turners Falls. The sturgeons in this region grow to about 52 inches — not as big as some species of sturgeons, which can be as long as 12 feet, but big enough that they can’t pass through the dam’s turbines in one piece.

Kynard and his collegues got the attention of state and federal agencies, however. In 2000, the agencies reviewed the Holyoke Dam using data that Kynard and his colleagues had collected over the years showing that the dam was disrupting the sturgeons’ migratory patterns. This led to the installation of a “fish lift” — an elaborate elevator-like system that carries the fish through the dam, allowing them to reach their spawning grounds in Turners Falls.

“They (at the Holyoke Dam) don’t particularly like me,” Kynard said. “But what am I supposed to do? I just follow the fish. If you want to protect the fish, that’s what you’ve got to do. I just happened to be the one that found it out.”

“Those females downstream have access to the estuary, and they grow about 25 percent larger than the females up here,” Kynard said. “So they’ve got 25 percent more eggs. Now that they’ve started passing, females and males, at the Holyoke lift, you’re going to see the population go up, because now those females are going to be able to come up here. So out of nowhere there’s going to be many more eggs and little guys up here than have been produced (in the past).”

The fish lift fixes the problem, but it’s an expensive, last-resort solution, Kynard said. He hopes that his fish ladder systems will make it easier for businesses and local government agencies to accommodate fish migratory patterns. Last August, he and his son installed their first fish ladder in the Eel River in Indiana, which flows into the Wabash River and then to the Ohio River. The Kynards’ systems are built according to the size and swimming capabilities of the local fish populations, and so have to be built on a case-by-case basis. In their Millers Falls lab, they are experimenting with smaller-than-normal sturgeons to build a fish ladder design that could be scaled up to accommodate average sized ones.

Contact Max Marcus at: mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 261.