American Shad Discovered Just Miles Upstream of Former Columbia Dam

Struggling fish species returns to spawning grounds for the first time in over a century, just months after dam removal completed

For the first time in over a century, American Shad (Alosa sapidissima) have been discovered upstream from the former Columbia Dam site on the 42-mile long Paulins Kill river, an important tributary to the Delaware River in northwestern New Jersey. Princeton Hydro’s Senior Water Resources Engineer and avid fisherman, Dr. Clay Emerson, PE, CFM, caught an American Shad in the Paulins Kill miles above the previous dam site this past weekend.

A successful collaboration between The Nature Conservancy, American Rivers, Princeton Hydro, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife Service, resulted in the removal of the out-of-commission hydroelectric Columbia Dam just months ago. Prior to this removal, American Shad and other migratory fish could not make it past the large dam structure to swim upstream to their important breeding grounds.

“I was thrilled to feel the familiar hit and see the flash of an American Shad as I reeled the fish to shore. Being an avid shad fisherman and enthusiast, I knew the significance of seeing this beautiful fish back in a place where it’s always belonged,” said Clay. “We are thrilled to witness the American Shad return upstream so quickly after the century-old Columbia dam was removed. It’s a testament to the nearly instant benefits that dam removal has on the riverine ecosystem.”

The American shad’s return is an excellent sign of the overall ecological health and diversity of the river. Historically, dams, overfishing, and pollution have caused population decline in many of the major eastern U.S. rivers. American Shad, deemed the “Mid-Atlantic salmon,” are anadromous, which means they spend much of their lives in the ocean but return to rivers and their tributaries to spawn. This long distance swimmer makes it one of the Earth’s great travelers. After spawning upstream in rivers of the East Coast, American Shad migrate to their primary habitat in the Atlantic Ocean up in the Gulf of Maine. Unlike the salmon of the Pacific Ocean, American Shad may return to their spawning grounds multiple times over their lifetime. The species is a key prey species for many large fish and cetaceans like dolphins and whales in the Atlantic Ocean.

“The best indicator of river water quality improving in the Paulins Kill is the appearance of shad miles upstream from the Columbia Dam,” said Dr. Barbara Brummer, New Jersey State Director of The Nature Conservancy. “Today, we celebrate proof that with the 100-year dam impediment removed, they are once again successfully swimming up the river. I could not be happier! This is what teamwork and passion for nature can achieve. It is a great day for conservation in New Jersey, with many more great days for shad in the Paulins Kill to come.”

Princeton Hydro was contracted to investigate, design, and apply for permits for the removal of this dam as requested by American Rivers in partnership with the New Jersey chapter of The Nature Conservancy. The firm investigated, designed, and prepared the necessary permits for the dam removal. The team of engineers and ecologists studied the feasibility of removal by collecting sediment samples, performing bioassay tests, and conducting a hydraulic analysis of upstream and downstream conditions.

A view of the Columbia Dam at the beginning of the removal process.

“We are proud to be a part of this collaborative project, which has had an immediate and positive impact to the ecosystem of the Delaware River Watershed and its fishery resources,” said Princeton Hydro’s President Geoffrey Goll, PE. “Re-discovering this Delaware River diadromous icon upstream of the former dam is a very promising sign that the river will once again return to a major migration route and nursery for American Shad. This is why we do what we do!”

A view of the former Columbia Dam towards the end of the dam removal process.

This Columbia Dam Removal project could not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the following partner organizations: The Nature Conservancy of New Jersey, American Rivers, Princeton Hydro, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, RiverLogic Solutions, NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife Service, and SumCo EcoContracting.

Anglers are reminded, according to New Jersey fishing regulations, except for the Delaware River mainstem it is illegal to fish for shad in any fresh waters of New Jersey.

Princeton Hydro has designed, permitted, and overseen the reconstruction, repair, and removal of a dozens of small and large dams in the Northeast. To learn more about our fish passage and dam removal engineering services, visitbit.ly/DamBarrier.

Employee Spotlight: Meet Our New Team Members

We’re excited to welcome two new staff members and seven new part-time staff & interns to our team who are spread throughout our Ringoes, Sicklerville, and Glastonbury offices.

 

Full-Time Staff Members:
Kelsey Mattison, Marketing Coordinator

Kelsey is a recent graduate of St. Lawrence University with a degree in English and environmental studies and a passion for environmental communication. Through her extracurricular work with various nonprofit organizations, she has developed expertise in social media management, content writing, storytelling, and interdisciplinary thinking. Kelsey believes that effective communication needs to be multi-faceted, which is reflected in the diversity of her experience. She served as Photography Editor of St. Lawrence University’s newspaper, worked in digital media for the environmental outreach program of St. Lawrence University,  produced stories for Northern New York’s public radio station, and developed feature content for St. Lawrence County’s Chamber of Commerce. As a member of the Princeton Hydro team, she aims to further its mission by taking creative approaches to communicating about our shared home: Planet Earth. In her free time, Kelsey enjoys dancing of all sorts, going on long walks with her camera, and spending time with friends and family in nature.

Christine Worthington, Accounting Assistant

Christine is a detailed-oriented Accounting Assistant who has over 15 years of experience working in office administration for local businesses. She loves vacationing in Jamaica with her husband and spending time with her two sons & three grandchildren. In her free time, she listens to country music and visits new cities like Nashville.

 

Part-time Staff, Field Assistants & Interns:
Heidi Golden, PhD, Aquatic Ecologist

Heidi is an aquatic ecologist and evolutionary biologist with a strong background in fish monitoring, aquatic habitat assessment, population and community ecology, and population genetics and genomics. She holds a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a Master of Science in Forestry and Wildlife Biology. In addition to her ecology expertise, Heidi has experience in GIS analysis, R statistical programing, scientific writing, permitting, and a wide range of field and laboratory techniques. Prior to joining Princeton Hydro, Heidi worked as a postdoctoral researcher with The Woods Hole Research Center, The Marine Biological Laboratory, and The University of Connecticut, where she continues to serve as adjunct faculty to the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She investigated ecological and evolutionary responses of fish populations to rapid environmental change. Her professional experience also includes coordinating field expeditions in remote locations of the Alaskan Arctic, tagging and tracking thousands of fish through remote PIT-tag antenna arrays, using environmental DNA to monitor fish presence and movement, and developing experiments to assess ecosystem responses to change. She enjoys raising ducks, swimming in cold rivers, hiking, kayaking, camping, and family.

Andrew Greenlaw, Water Resources Intern

Andrew Greenlaw is in his fourth year at the University of Connecticut, majoring in Civil Engineering with a minor in Environmental Engineering. Before studying engineering he taught at a Marine science summer camp in Groton, CT, off of the Long Island Sound. He joined Princeton Hydro with the hope of combining his biological sciences experience with his academic engineering knowledge. He enjoys hiking, fishing, and just about any outdoor sport.

Ryan Lindsay, Water Resources Intern

Ryan is a double major at Rowan University focusing in both Civil & Environmental Engineering and Computer Science, and is currently finishing his final semester. He’s worked on various engineering clinic projects ranging from developing a pavement analysis program for Rhode Island DOT to a feasibility study to assist those with disabilities. His current project is to develop a home security/monitoring system with an accompanying mobile application. In the future, Ryan hopes to develop civil engineering applications for use by design engineers, and hopes that with his unique skillset he can make future engineers’ jobs easier and more efficient. Ryan enjoys playing baseball, listening to music, hiking and hanging out with friends and family.

Nick Niezgoda, Aquatics Field Assistant

Nick graduated in 2017 from Western State Colorado University with a B.S. in Biology. He lived and worked at Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory studying defense genotypes of B.stricta under Duke University’s Tom Mitchell-Olds Lab in 2016 and 2018. At RMBL, He also assisted in trapping and banding of Mountain White-Crowned Sparrows. He enjoys cycling, hiking, and birding!

Emily McGuckin, Aquatics Field Assistant

Emily is a recent graduate from Stockton University, with a BS in marine biology, and a minor in environmental science. She just finished up an internship with the American Littoral Society at Sandy Hook, where she helped manage the fish tagging program and educating others on the importance of maintaining an accurate fisheries database. She has experience in both freshwater and marine ecosystem management and is excited to continue learning about ecological restoration and management.  She is very interested in ecosystem resilience, specifically climate change and how it affects estuaries and estuarine organisms. Emily is hoping to attend graduate school in the near future to further her studies in marine science.

Pat Rose, Aquatics Field Assistant

Pat got interested in aquatics during a summer course studying at Lake Atitlán, Guatemala as an undergraduate at SUNY Oneonta. After graduation, he spent a year volunteering with AmeriCorps in Knoxville, TN as part of a Water Quality Team. While in Tennessee, he spent the majority of his time educating high school students on how to protect and improve local waterways and watersheds as part of the Adopt-A-Watershed program. The year, through AmeriCorps, he also worked with government organizations performing biological sampling and erosion monitoring in local streams. Pat is set to graduate from SUNY Oneonta with a M.S. in Lake Management in December. He created an interim lake management plan for a small reservoir in New York that has had cyanobacterial blooms over the past few years. Pat spent this past summer completing a co-op with an aquatic plant management company in the Pacific Northwest, working primarily with invasive Eurasian and hybrid watermilfoil populations.