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Waterford group to remove dam to allow alewives to spawn

Waterford — Alewife Cove has been difficult on its namesake fish for decades.

A dam installed in the 1970s that blocks the cove just north of Niles Hill Road prevented access to alewife herring spawning waters. So Edward Lamoureux, co-chairman of the Alewife Cove Conservancy, likes to tell a joke.

"They go out to sea for four years, they return to where they would spawn, they get up there, and the first one up says, 'Dam!'"

The Alewife Cove Conservancy is on the precipice of killing that joke, as it received a $187,282 grant this November from the Long Island Sound Futures Fund to remove the dam.

A news release from the Long Island Sound Study indicates that $2.6 million in grants were awarded to a number of local groups to help improve the health of Long Island Sound. This includes a $50,000-plus grant to the City of Groton to study risks and vulnerabilities to coastal resilience and develop a plan of action for sea-level rise.

Another $15,000 was awarded to the Niantic River Watershed Committee for a social marketing program aimed at reducing or eliminating the use of fertilizer on lawns in the Niantic River watershed in East Lyme and Waterford.

The $187,282 grant awarded to the Connecticut Fund for the Environment and Save the Sound, the two organizations working closely with the  the Alewife Cove Conservancy, requires $128,280 in matching funds from the three groups for a total of $315,562.

"The project will remove a barrier to fish passage, educating and engaging the community and students in project implementation and monitoring at Alewife Cove, New London, Connecticut," the release reads. "It will restore three miles of riverine migratory corridor benefiting alewife, sea lamprey and American eel that migrate between rivers and Long Island Sound." 

In 2018, the LISFF also awarded a $99,987 grant that required matching funds of $100,000 to the three groups to do the planning for the removal of the dam.

At the time, a LISS said the project would provide access to spawning, rearing and refuge habitat for alewife herring, as well as other species.

Lamoureux said the disruption of the alewife herring's ecosystem in the cove was unintentional but damaging. The dam was installed in Fenger Brook at the headwaters to Alewife Cove in the 1970s to create a pond near an apartment complex.

"What it did was, is it stopped the alewife fish migration back up into the freshwater watershed where they come from the ocean to go back to where they spawn," Lamoureux said.

An October column in The Day titled "Bringing alewives back into Alewife Cove" described the issue facing the fish — alewives, once abundant in North America, "are now greatly reduced in number, largely because of habitat loss and extensive dam construction that interfered with spawning migration."

Alewives have historically been consumed by other marine life, birds of prey and human beings. There are still alewives in the cove, but not like they used to be. Lore has it "that during the spawning season, one could walk across streams on the backs of the fish," the ACC's website notes.

Lamoureux hopes the dam removal will revitalize the cove's complex ecosystems. He recalls a time from his youth when alewives, along with blue shell crabs and other animals, were plentiful in the cove.

"I live in Waterford now, but I was born and bred in New London, and I was down in that cove every day as a kid," Lamoureux said. "I was pulling out bushels of blue shell crabs there, I was fishing and swimming, and we all grew up in, on and around the cove."

Lamoureux thinks support from the Town of Waterford and City of New London stems from those memories. An Oct. 12 event organized by the ACC raised $12,000 and was attended by about 325 people, many of whom grew up together and hadn't seen one another in decades.

"This Alewife Cove Conservancy has touched a nerve," Lamoureux said. "We're reaching across the cove and shaking hands and we're coming together."

s.spinella@theday.com

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