State biologist sees river-rich Norwich as unique

Norwich - The city's rivers and a growing effort to restore historical fish species to inner waterways could turn Norwich into a major attraction for sport fishermen and eco-tourists who come to watch eagles, osprey, seals and other wildlife drawn here by healthy fish populations, a state fisheries biologist told the City Council Monday.

Steve Gephard, supervising fisheries biologist for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said he knows Norwich has defined itself for centuries by the three rivers that cross through its terrain - the Shetucket, Yantic and Thames. He added the Quinebaug River north of the city to the mix.

Gephard described efforts to remove dams upstream in Moosup and add fish pathways to working hydropower dams to get American shad - the Connecticut state fish - Atlantic salmon, eels and numerous smaller fish on which they feed upriver to spawn.

DEEP has a partnership with Norwich Public Utilities, which owns the Greeneville Dam hydropower operation and a high-tech fish elevator system.

Because a second fish ladder upriver on the Shetucket at the Taftville Dam doesn't function as well, NPU has restructured a truck to transport fish from Greeneville upriver to improve fish stocks.

Efforts to improve fish passages continue at the Taftville Dam, and in the near future, a fish passage should be added to the Scotland Dam farther up the Shetucket. Up the Quinebaug, the state is working to remove several small dams.

Historically, however, migratory fish never made it past the natural gorge at Uncas Leap, even before the manmade dam was added atop the gorge in the early 19th century. So the state will not push for fish passages along the Yantic, he said.

Gephard started his slide show presentation with the headline "Norwich and Sport Fishing, A Good Match."

He said his job as a fisheries biologist takes him all over the state, where rivers and tidal inlets also have plenty of fish. But most places don't have public access to the river, and most waterfront land is owned by businesses or private individuals.

Norwich, however, owns much waterfront land along Norwich Harbor and the Yantic and Shetucket rivers.

Striped bass, one of the top sport fishing targets in the country, don't make their way up the fresh water rivers, but they chase the smaller bait fish up into Norwich Harbor and the lower Shetucket River, Gephard said.

"All this combined makes this area unique in the state," Gephard said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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