WALLINGFORD — When the Haakonsen Fishway was added on the Wallace dam seven years ago, officials lauded the project as a way to allow fish to get farther upstream to spawn.
The goal was to increase the fish population. But since the installation, counts show fish populations have not risen, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
“The dam had a negative impact on wildlife,” said Steve Gephard, DEEP/Inland Fisheries Division supervising fisheries biologist. “It blocked fish... and stopped oxygen flow. In a lot of places, we removed the dam. We couldn’t remove this one...”
DEEP tracks how many fish pass through the Haakonsen Fishway and others around the state weekly.
Population counts for the Haakonsen Fishway, which is along the Quinnipiac River, were first included in the report in 2014 and run through 2018.
In 2014, a total of 4,223 fish passed through the fishway. In 2018, 3,184 passed through.
Former DEEP commissioner and Yale Law School Professor of Environmental Law and Policy Daniel Esty said the $300,000 fishway was constructed to aid the fish population and fishing in the state.
“Fishing is one of the most important sports around Connecticut with thousands of families going out for the day together, fishing,” said Esty, who had was DEEP commissioner from 2011 to 2014 and oversaw the fishway project. “The fishway was designed to open up and allow fish to spawn within the habitat. There would be a high payoff in terms of number of fish, that was the vision here.”
DEEP installed a motion sensitive camera on the bottom of the fishway to track fish, Gephard said. Once a week, someone reviews the tape and tracks the species.
“It’s hard to keep track of how many species go through,” Gephard said. “We have to go through it, identify them. Sometimes on a busy day it can take an hour or more.”
Gephard said the number of American shad to passing through the fishway increased, going from none in 2013 to four just a year later. Gephard said the only thing that will increase the fish population in the river will be time.
“Time is really what we need,” Gephard said. “Generations of fish are usually three to four years. What we saw in another fishway is that it simmered down after a few years, but increased again.”
When fish pass through and up the fishway to lay eggs, Gephard said, that’s when the population will increase.
“If they were born there, they’re imprinted up there, then they’ll really want to get up there,” he said. “That’s when we’ll see the increase.”
In a few more years, the site may see an increase in the overall fish population. For now, Gephard said, they are waiting.
“The way we look at it,” Gephard said. “We’ve opened up miles of fresh water by constructing that fishway. There are environmental benefits, too.”