Columbia, SC For the first time in nearly a century, American shad and American eel will return to their historic habitat on the Yadkin-Pee Dee River, thanks to a fish passage agreement negotiated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and Progress Energy and agreed to by American Rivers, the Coastal Conservation League and the states of North and South Carolina. For almost 100 years, the Blewett Falls and Tillery dams have blocked fish from moving upstream and down.
The agreement comes on the heels of a legal appeal by Progress Energy that threatened plans to return these fish to historic habitats above the dams. The appeal was challenged by federal agencies and American Rivers.
“A hundred years is a long time to wait, but the people of North Carolina are on the verge of getting back some of the fish runs that helped build the state,” said Gerrit Jöbsis, Southeast Regional Director of American Rivers. “It’s a truly historic occasion.”
“This settlement will help restore the important migratory fish runs in this river system in both South and North Carolina, and will result in critical habitat and river ecosystem improvements in both states,” said Jim Cumberland, Rivers Project Manager for the Coastal Conservation League. “The League is pleased to support the settlement.”
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, the states of South and North Carolina, and Progress Energy have agreed on a plan which will ensure safe, timely, and effective passage for American shad and American eel at Blewett Falls Dam and the Tillery Dam by 2013. Passage around dams is essential for these species which need to migrate between freshwater rivers and the ocean to complete their lifecycles.
The fish passage plan will occur in two phases. During the first phase, Progress Energy will design, construct, and operate a trap, sort, and transport facility at the Blewett Falls Dam. The purpose of this facility will be to trap pre-spawn shad and transport them by truck to the two reaches of the Yadkin-Pee Dee River, first to the upper section above the Tillery Dam by 2013, followed in 2017 to the reach above Blewett Falls dam.
The trap, sort, and transport facility will have capacity to handle a maximum of 100,000 spawning shad. The agreement also requires Progress Energy to build a permanent fish ladder to replace the truck system between 2022 and 2025. A permanent fish ladder will allow shad and eel to pass the Blewett and Tillery dams without any human intervention. The endangered shortnose sturgeon, which occurs below Blewett Falls dam, may also benefits from the new facilities.
Fish passage was negotiated as a condition of re-licensing the dams by the Federal Energy Regulator Commission (FERC) which will set the operation rules for these dams for the next 40 years or longer. The agreement means that migratory fish will begin to be passed early in the term of the new license.
“This agreement guarantees migratory fish passage for the first time in a century, and that’s worth celebrating. The year 2013 is a reasonable time frame by which to begin passage.”
Jöbsis said. "Although 2017 and 2025 seem way off, the FERC relicensing process is, frankly, a long and complicated road.”
American Rivers is the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams. Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Since 1973, American Rivers has fought to preserve these connections, helping protect and restore more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 100,000 supporters, members, and volunteers nationwide. Visit www.americanrivers.org, www.facebook.com/americanrivers and www.twitter.com/americanrivers.