Update–below is a video supplied by Trout Unlimited:
There’s a new neighbor in the waters of the Norwalk River in Wilton, and while it may look a little strange — even ugly or scary — the sea lamprey is a native fish that is essential to the improving health of our local river systems.
This past month, a pair of sea lamprey were spotted at an undisclosed location in town for the first time in more than 125 years. The two adult fish, which spend their lives in saltwater but migrate into freshwater to mate, were spotted building a spawning nest in the gravel.
Residents, anglers, and passersby are being asked to keep their distance and enjoy the return of these fish from a respectful distance. As a Connecticut State Endangered Species, it is illegal to harass, harm, or capture them.
“Conservation is all about the small victories. While you typically only hear about species slowly disappearing or in decline, here’s an example of an incredible success story,” said Gerald Berrafati, President of the Mianus Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “Just a few years after the removal of two dams, we’re seeing a rebirth of the migratory saltwater ecosystem that thrived in the Norwalk River for centuries. It is proof that there is always a chance for restoration to succeed when so many of us work together to undo the damage and restore the rivers and streams we care about as a community.”
When the Flock Process Dam was built in 1894 in Norwalk, south of the location of the present-day Merritt Parkway, it effectively cut off the ability of lamprey, alewives, and other sea-run fish from swimming up the Norwalk River — an important part of the full life cycle of so many sea-run fish. In 2018 that dam was removed from the river by the City of
Norwalk and state, federal, and local partners, reopening passage north for several miles. At the same time, the Mianus Chapter of Trout Unlimited removed a large section of the Cannondale Dam in Wilton for a similar ecological purpose.
Now, Save the Sound, Trout Unlimited, the Town of Wilton, the CT Department of Environmental Protection, and a range of other partners are working to remove the Strong Pond Dam just north of Merwin Meadows Park to connect these two free-flowing stretches of water and restore fish passage from Long Island Sound all the way to Georgetown.
“The return of sea lamprey to the Norwalk River marks a turning point for our local waters,” said Jeff Yates, Conservation Chair of the Mianus Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “Not only do these fish represent a new hope for a restored watershed, but they also provide critical ecosystem services like bringing ocean nutrients miles upstream to fertilize our river valleys. Their spawning activity cleans and improves the gravel substrate of the river, making the spawning of other fish like trout and minnows easier and more effective.”
Each year, volunteers with Trout Unlimited scour the Norwalk River and area streams to identify and document sea lamprey spawning sites, as well as monitor other river conditions. To learn more, or to volunteer to be trained for this year’s effort, visit the Mianus Chapter of Trout Unlimited website.
Founded in 1975, the Mianus Chapter of Trout Unlimited is a grassroots conservation nonprofit organization with more than 3,500 members and supporters in the towns of Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, New Canaan, Norwalk, Wilton, and Ridgefield. The chapter works to protect and restore local river resources through active restoration projects, education initiatives, and public advocacy.