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PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 2:00 pm    Post subject: Connecticut River Fyke and Shad Fisheries 1900-1920 -IMEP 21 Reply with quote

The Sound School Inter-District Marine Education
Program Newsletters - IMEP # 21
Habitat Information for Fishers and Fisheries Area Managers Understanding Science Through History
Connecticut River Fyke and Shad Fisheries 1900-1920
Connecticut Leads Region In Fyke Net Fisheries 1885-1915
Research Areas for Fishing Gear Capstones
Models of Historical Fishing Gear
Tim Visel, The Sound School
July 2014


Introduction

As the very cold 1870s came to a close Connecticut’s coves and rivers witnessed both ice and storms. Ice was common then and cold is frequently mentioned by fishers by the old terms of “heavy” or “light” ice. When ice first broke early spring, fishing companies made ready hickory poles and wood hoop “barrel” cotton mesh fykes. Fykes were circular hoop shaped trap with funnels and a leader that guided fish into the traps. These fish traps were “passive” gear types often relying in upon movement of the fish themselves as opposed to much later “active” methods which involved moving the gear. Here instead these fykes were set to intercept winter flounder returning each spring to spawn in lower rivers coves and salt ponds as shad intercepted returning to fresh water habitats. Fykes consisted of three basic components – the body or barrel, a series of graduated hoops enclosed by webbing (netting) with funnels or throats (best described as one way valves – similar to lobster pot funnels only larger) one or two wings (arms) that guide fish into the funnel or throat. A “leader” was linear sheet of webbing that functions much like a terrestrial fence that guides or leads fish into fyke barrel. Fykes were set on the bottom held in place by stakes, or in later years, with anchors. Shallow and firm bottom habitats were preferred setting locations for fykes.

Fykes as most other traps kept fish alive in the trap (similar to most static or fixed traps) unwanted fish returned to the water alive or occasionally during low market prices just dumped back. Larger mesh in the fykes allowed smaller fish to escape, while reducing “weed” that also could enter fykes. Fykes were set “to the bottom” depending upon water depths. Years of severe storms no doubt washed and scoured out any organic debris in high energy areas, so set fykes often found firm shelly bottoms.

The storms during the 1870s were severe and created the foundation of the extensive breakwater construction program of the 1890s. But storms in the building heat of the late 1890s now made for excellent soft shell clams sets. Transitioning habitats made this choice of gear type most appropriate. From historic fishery reports – shallow areas now supported immense sets of the soft shell clam a favorite food for winter flounder. This bivalve shell liter is often a preferred habitat type for winter flounder (Howell, Molnar, Harris, Juvenile Winter Flounder Distribution by Habitat Type, Estuaries Vol. 2, No. 4, December 1999).

This paper was developed for the Connecticut River Museum celebration of the annual Essex Rotary Shad Bake held each June since 1957. A model net display was organized in conjunction with the Shad Bake in the Boat House of the Connecticut River Museum June 7, 2014.

The eastern section of Long Island Sound is open to large storms and its rivers mouths often contained several sand bars which moved with them when they did sets of bivalves often occurred on these new marine soils. Inside these river mouths were coves also swept clean by heavy ice and strong storms. Areas of cobblestones and clean sand frequently covered by kelp could be found in them. It is these eastern areas that winter flounder sought out to lay eggs – estuarine bays that had slightly alkaline “sweet” marine soils. This is in stark contrast to those soils covered in Sapropel – high in sulfur and containing organic acids, a black ooze like material deadly to winter flounder eggs. Colder waters contains more oxygen and any organic matter from the land or sea would tend to be broken down and quickly become part of the marine food chain leaving a shelly sandy and firm bottom. This describes a habitat type in which winter flounder thrives, so it is understandable that fyke net fishers produced the largest catches of them in eastern Connecticut immediately following the 1870s.
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The Connecticut River also had a fyke net fishery most for shad river herring and some alewife and with various freshwater species. Further west Branford, Connecticut had a small fyke net fishery for menhaden (bunkers). Fyke nets were used in Western, CT also but not near the numbers used in the central and eastern sections. Hugh Smith of the US Fish Commission wrote about the Connecticut Fyke Net Fishery in 1890 and mentions that fykes were used to capture shad, especially in the Connecticut River. A description of the fyke net fishery follows:


“Fyke net fishing is carried on along most parts of the coast of this State. All the prominent towns have more or less fishing of this kind. The largest number of nets is found in Stonington, Quiambaug, Mystic, Noank, and New London.

The first now taken in the fyke nets of Connecticut are principally flounders, frostfish, tautog, menhaden, and striped bass. In a few places terrapin are taken, and in Stratford these are much more valuable than the remaining part of the catch. In 1880 the species reported to be caught in fyke nets were sea bass, cod, bluefish, eels, weakfish, flounders, herring, shad, and occasionally sturgeon. At Mystic the nets are set about February 1 and taken up about March 31; they are again set about October 1 and remain down until December 31. Flatfish and frostfish are taken. At Noank, the nets are fished from the first of February to the last of April, and from the first of October to the middle of December. The principal fishing, however, is done in the spring. The nets are placed in water 6 to 15 feet deep. In Groton the fykes are operated at the mouths of the rivers during June and July, and within the rivers during the rest of the year; flounders and frostfish are secured. The largest catch is made in Quiambaug, where the greatest number of nets is used. Here nearly 140,000 pounds of flounders, frostfish, and tautog, valued at $2,550, were obtained in 1889. Seven nets at Branford were fished for menhaden; about 100,000 fish were taken in the year named.

The fyke net fishery of Connecticut in 1889 resulted in the capture of 455,250 pounds of fish” (pages 318-319). The Fyke Nets and Fyke Net Fisheries of the United States US Fish Commission – Hugh M. Smith, The Connecticut Fishery.

The eastern CT fyke net fishery was mostly for flounder while the Connecticut River dominant fishery was shad.

Shad and The Connecticut River 1900 - 1920

What makes the lower Connecticut River so interesting about its fisheries history is the ability to connect four key gear types for the capture of Shad Alosa sapidissima*. Haul seines, traps and weirs, fykes and gill nets all were used that suited particular habitats. Historic fish landing statistics and even fishing gear ownership to individual firms or persons is now possible as more historic records become available. One of these areas was Hamburg Cove in Lyme, CT home to the Daniels fish company. With the US Fish Commission Reports 1880s, New England Fish Net and Twine manual and the State of Connecticut Biennial reports it is possible to represent gear type and design for shad, alewife and herring fisheries, such as river herring and menhaden. The lower Connecticut River had been the site of immense fishing efforts in the past and evolving gear types and recorded in the 1889 report of the United States Fisheries, Commission on Fisheries issued in conjunction with the 10th census. Nothing is seems was to impact Connecticut’s fisheries and habitat history of rivers more than Shad. (Connecticut State Fish – The American Shad (Alosa sapidissima) The American Shad was designated as the fish by the General Assembly in 2003. It was selected because: 1) it is a native Connecticut fish; 2) it has great historical significance in that it provided food for Native Americans and colonists; 3) it was, and continues to be, of great commercial value to the State; 4) because the hardiness of this migratory fish reflects the true Connecticut spirit stated in our motto “Qui Transtuli Sustinet” (He Who Transplants Still Sustains) from the official website of the State of Connecticut.)

Harvesting Shad during the Last Century

The fishing gear descriptions can be found in the historical literature and divided into four basic types. Habitat and weather determined fishing “seasons.” The Connecticut River was soon to have a large fyke net fishery.

Potential Examples for Display Models

• Fyke Nets – See the Daniel Fish Trap Company Hamburg Cove Lyme to 1901-52 State of CT Biennial Report.

• Gill Nets – Lower CT River gear type after the haul seine fisheries – 1875 to present US Fish Commission – The Fisheries of the Connecticut River – CT Board of Fisheries and Game 1965.

• Long Haul Seines – a modified “bunt and square” seine developed and fished from manmade fishing piers at the lower reaches of the Connecticut River – 1880-1905, see American Linen Thread Manual Trap Net Designs. These remnant seine “piers” still exist today although just piles of rocks below the surface in the lower Connecticut River.

• Traps and Weirs – The earliest shad fisheries
Native American South Cove Old Saybrook Pre Colonial to 1680 Colonial the Floating Pound or Trap Nets to 1940s and 1950s paper presented at the Archaeological Society of Connecticut October 18, 2008. This model seeks to represent a Native American basket weir that predated fykes. Local history referenced these weirs in Old Saybrook’s coves. Later pound or stake fish traps were used in Old Saybrook – some of the largest fish trap companies were located in Westbrook, CT. It is thought that 1950’s dredging in North Cove Old Saybrook incidentally removed a Native American fish weir.

The Connecticut River Shad Fishery has been described as important to Connecticut since the first settlements as the first legislative “fisheries” report issued by the General Assembly regarding Connecticut River Fisheries was in 1867. It recommended then that factories not pollute the Connecticut River with toxins and suggested building fish ladders over dams. A century before Connecticut salted shad fed Washington’s troops held up at Valley Forge. Some of the observations and recommendations of the general assembly 1867 report are still valid today regarding shad. This report commissioned by the Connecticut Legislature in 1865 was the result of diminished shad runs. Although salmon was mentioned, and the number of dams blocking salmon from spawning habitats but was uncertain for Shad.

Shad numbers seemed to be large one year and low the next giving the appearance of over fishing but most likely reflected diminished habitat capacity years before. Another bias in the report reflects a lack of knowledge about long term habitat quality trends – mostly climate related. This is an excerpt which describes some of the concerns in 1867.
The gentle Connecticut is precisely suited to their nature (Shad), as is well by the way in which they hold out in that river, despite a multitude of gill nets at its mouth, and the dams that have stopped their free migrations. Nevertheless, they too have decrease in numbers seriously. Three quarters of a century ago they were so abundant as to be thought of little value, and were taken in large quantities in weirs. As many as two thousand were sometimes caught by one haul of the seine at Hadley Falls. There has been no such fishing in recent years, except in 1849, when the fish were headed off by the closing of Holyoke Dam, and two thousand one hundred were then taken by one sweep of the seine. Ever since the building of that dam there has been a perceptible diminution of shad. Thus, in 1853, (not a remarkable year), between forty and fifty thousand were caught at Hadley Falls; during the past season (1866), (which was a remarkable one); the catch has been only about thirty-five thousands, indicating a decrease of one fourth in twelve years. On both rivers, the number of fishing places abandoned, because no longer profitable is very great. There were probably three times as many places thirty years ago than now are on any given part of these rivers” (page 16-17) Report of the Commissioners concerning the Protection of Fish In The Connecticut River To The General Assembly, May Session 1867.

Habitat Reclamation / Restoration

Interest increased in the late 1970s in fish restoration especially anadromous fisheries – some questions were how large were these shad fisheries, what types of fishing gear did they use – what happened to these gear types? Since full size representations were not suited to workshops or lectures. Models could however illustrates fishing gears and understand some of the habitat constraints of their use.

In 1985 the first fishing gear models were created for use in the Connecticut River Museum Shad programs. In following years different types added for additional displays. It is possible with the help of very old net plan manuals to represent some of the most elaborate gear types and demonstrate what made them work for shad, alewife and other fisheries in the Connecticut River. For many plans I have relied upon an old copy of the Linen Thread Company, 200 Hudson Street, New York which has gone of business.

Why Little Remains from the Last Century

Most of the gear types of the past century used natural twines (cotton, linen, manila) and materials such as wood hoops for the fykes. To maintain the gear, dips and salting by fishers tried to prevent bacterial damage to natural fiber webbing and but very few fyke and haul seine examples survived to our times. Manila, linen and cotton twines quickly rotted in the marine environment (bacteria) requiring constant drying and dipping in metal salt solutions. This is where the Linen Thread Company (sole selling agent for the American Net and Twine Company established in 1842) catalog is so helpful. Connecticut at one time contained many factories for the production of webbing such as CoFish™ in Haddam and Brownell Twine™ in Moodus. To send customers the correct amount of webbing from which to make a net, they maintained a catalog of net plans and made storage suggestions on page 12. (1932)

“A foul, wet net piled up under a tight cover may be quickly ruined by bacteria and mildew. This has caused serious losses to fishermen, especially in warm weather. The Bureau of Fisheries has previously recommended washing shad gill nets with lime water – 1.5 lbs of slack lime in 12 gallons of water. After fish are removed from the net, plenty of lime water should be thrown over the webbings, which should be then rinsed with clear water, either salt or fresh. No known preservative (coal tar, pine tar, Hemlock bark juice or copper sulfate) will protect nets against damage from lack of cleanliness or careless storage.”

Elaborate net reels were constructed to dry the very fine linen, shad gill nets and cotton haul seines along the Essex Connecticut shore. When modern synthetics were invented in the late1930s and by the 1950s, nylon and monofilament net webbing soon replaced natural fibers as they were consumed by bacteria. As gear became worn out it was just simply discarded and unfortunately within the net plan designs. Lobster traps for example once all wood with manila funnels simply rotted away. After 1960 webbing distributors mostly stopped providing net plans.

In 2002 a historic discovery of the Daniels fish traps of Hamburg Cove was detailed by the Connecticut River Museum (see fyke net fact sheet CT River Fyke Nets and Long Haul Seines found in Lyme, CT 2002). It was a rare opportunity to look at they very gears described by CT Biennial Reports of the last century used in Connecticut River Fisheries. It is to my knowledge the largest intact fyke net collection ever documented in New England. Net plans from these fykes were very similar to a American Net and Twine Plan (1920).


A Fyke Net Plan – circa 1920 (Daniels Net Equivalent)

A Double Throat Fyke (2 Funnels) page 53

6 Foot Fyke

1) Body (Barrel) front 44 meshes long by 140 meshes around
2) Funnel 30 meshes long by 140 meshes around
3) Body (Back) 90 meshes long by 180 meshes around
4) Funnel (Back) 35 meshes long by 180 meshes around
5) Front Funnel (Throat) set in 1.5 meshes from the front first circular hoop (on the round) second funnel set in at junction between barrel and back

All 2.25 inch mesh is thread medium

Hoops

1 6 foot bow hoop – first hoop often flat to help stabilize the roll is called a “bow” (rainbow shape)

3 6 foot wood hoops – circular steamed sapling

1 5 foot wood hoop – circular steamed sapling

Total 5 hoop fyke series Bow 6, 6, 6, 5

Hoop Placement

22 meshes between the first two hoops

30 meshes between the last three hoops

Sewn tapered funnels could be “soft” or “hard”

Hard funnels ended in a ring – similar to lobster traps today – the first funnel ring had a 18 inch wood ring. The second funnel was a 15 inch wood diameter ring.

Two wings 42 meshes deep by 120 meshes taken up by a third.

Leader various lengths also hung on a third but larger mesh from leader end – 6”, 5”, 4” larger meshes tended to let leaves and seaweed pass. However from time to time terrestrial leaves and marine seaweed could completely fill fykes, or in heavy tides, rip them from setting stakes.


Fisheries History

With the records now being made available by Google™ in cooperation with the University of California at Berkley who is slowly making available the entire series of the Connecticut Biennial Reports of Fish and Game online and in doing so enabling the habitat/placement of these key fishing gears to date.

For example The State of Connecticut Biennial 1901-02 report contains this section for fish reports for the lower Connecticut River.

1901-02 Four fishing companies were operating Fyke and Cove Nets in the lower Connecticut River.
C.V. Miller, Lyme Fish caught. 600 suckers, 300 eels, 75 flat, 50 perch, 500 frost, 45 striped bass.

James Daniels Hamburg Fish caught. 545 pickerel, 1,700 perch, 590 suckers, 185 bullheads, 1,925 roach.
Gilbert Johnson, Essex Fish caught. 1,500 alewives, 42 striped bass, 145 pickerel, 290 perch, 3,600 suckers, 55 bullheads, 295 roach, 3,250 eels, 1 German carp.
Elliott W. Ely, Hadlyme Fish caught. 40 shad, 8000 pickerel, 900 perch, 2,000 suckers, 1,200 bullheads, 2,400 roach, 300 eels

By 1911-12, the fyke net fishery had greatly expanded on the Connecticut River and elsewhere. The Rivers and coves of the Connecticut shoreline made setting of fykes ideal, shallow and semi protected areas with firm and shelly bottoms made them very effective. Hugh M. Smith – writing in the US Fish Commission reports (1890) mentions the significance of the Connecticut on pg 319 – The Fyke Nets and Fyke Net Fisheries of the United States. “As already shown, the fyke net fishery of Connecticut is more important than that of any other New England state” and our Connecticut fyke net fishery expanded into shad. Shad was no longer the neglected fish of the coast but now commanded the highest prices, a Fulton Market New York report; March 5 to March 10th, 1915 has some surprises. Lobsters “Prime” at 32 cents/lb, large Cod at 10 cents but Shad “Roe” from Georgia, So. Carolina, and Virginia priced for $1.20. The Oysterman and Fisherman newsletter by 1912 listed the roe shad being more valued for the roe delicacy and looked apart from the flesh. As shad catches increased from 1870s so and the fyke net fishery, 1901 saw a record 124,947 Shad caught in Connecticut. (The Connecticut River Museum in Essex, CT continues to make available a documentary CD titled “A passion for Shad” it includes rare video footage of the fyke nets and some of the last known haul seine operation in Middletown, CT from the 1930s.)

Where Were Fyke Nets Set

The 1911-12 Shad Report of the Connecticut Department of Fish & Game now includes location of fykes of three large firms, L.A. Champion of Old Saybrook, G. B. Hayden of Essex and Jared S. Daniels, Lyme, registered nearly 60 fyke nets from Hamburg Cove to the Connecticut River mouth. It was by far the largest fyke net fishery of the Connecticut River.

The 1911-1912 Biennial Report State of Connecticut Fisheries and Game mentions the following. (Some area residents will recognize some fishing locations but many no doubt have faded when they were abandoned for fishing areas).

G. B. Hayden, Essex, Connecticut licensed for 20 fyke nets

171 Mathers Meadow, Conn. River
173 Foxburough Grove, North Cove
174 Walters Point, North Cove
175 Point of Reeds, North Cove
176 Burying Ground Point, North Cove
177 Pratts Meadow, North Cove
178 Camp Ground, Conn, River
179 Woodchuck Pier, Conn, River
180 Thatch Bed Island, Conn, River
181 Notts Island, Conn, River
182 Broad Bill Point, Lords Cove
183 High Point, Lords Cove
184 Stump Meadow, Lords Cove
185 Nobles Meadow, Lords Cove
186 Low Point, Lords Cove
187 Goose Point, Lords Cove
188 Mink Island, Lords Cove
189 Harding Meadow, Lords Cove
190 Goose Island, Lords Cove
191 LaPlace Meadow, Lords Cove
and Jared S. Daniels, Lyme – registered for 22 fykes for these fishing sites
192 West Side, Hamburg Cove
193 Watsons Side, Hamburg Cove
194 West Side, Hamburg Cove
195 Elys Meadow, Conn. River
196 Elys Meadow, Conn. River
197 Elys Meadow, Conn. River
198 Seldens Meadow, Conn. River
199 Seldens Meadow, Conn. River
200 Pine Woods, Conn. River
201 Brockways Island, Conn. River
202 Below Mikes Point, Conn. River
203 Pettipaugh Meadow, Conn. River
204 Pettipaugh Meadow, Conn. River
205 Pettipaugh Meadow, Conn. River
206 Pettipaugh Meadow, Conn. River
207 Pettipaugh Meadow, Conn. River
208 Chester Meadow, Conn. River
209 Chester Meadow, Conn. River
210 Seldens Meadow, Conn. River
298 East Side Notts Island, Conn. River
299 East Side Notts Island, Conn. River
258 Seldens, Conn. River

Some area residents may recognize some of these locations while others no longer appear on modern maps. For a particular habitat history and current study the North Cove sites are significant as an alewife restoration project is now planned for the Falls River. Fyke nets continue to be used for fish sampling and fish census studies. Of the four principles gear types only the shad “flag” or “ring” gill net continues on the lower Connecticut River. Chances are the shad for the annual Essex Rotary Shad Bake were captured by a gill net.

Seasons were Weather Dependent -

During the continued period of warmth the coves sometimes were ice free enabled fyke net fishers to continue fishing and get higher fish prices in winter. The 1922 Biennial Report mentions the hazards of spring runoff which would interfere with the hauling and setting of the fykes.

From pg 48 Report of State Board of Fisheries and Game 1921-22

The Pound and Fyke Net Fishery of the Connecticut River

“Under Section 3134, any person who desires to fish on the Connecticut River with a pound or fyke net must first submit to the Commissioners a description of the net, the place where it is to be set, etc., and having done so it is a compulsory duty of the Commissioners to furnish a number for the net. In actual operation there is no restriction as to the number of nets which any individual may use, nor is there any restriction as to the period of the year when they are in operation.
The fishermen make application for assignment of numbers for a stated number of nets, giving a general description of the location, upon the receipt of which the Commissioners fill out a blank form assigning the numbers – a purely perfunctory operation.
The maximum of numbers issued to one applicant is for 40 nets and the average number of nets used by each fisherman is around 10.
There is perhaps no time of the year when some of the fyke nets are not in use, although during extreme freshet periods the fishing is limited to certain inshore or overflowed areas to which the fish may have resorted for the spawning function.

During the winter months only a limited number of nets are used because the fishermen are hampered by the ice. The principal catch of the nets which are operated in the Winter consists of carp and suckers.”

High Heat Ruins Shad Habitats

As the 1890s came to a close smaller runs of shad diminished and after unprecedented heat the shad runs in the Thames and Housatonic became “extinct during or shortly after 1898” (Moss 1965), 1898 was a key habitat year, for Connecticut it was the year the lobsters in New England also died off but the cooler (deeper) Connecticut River Shad run held up the longest. The State of Connecticut tried to reverse the decline of shad runs – releasing millions of shad fry raised in fish hatcheries between 1885 to 1910. The Great Heat (1880 to 1920) was damaging to these cooler preferring fish but a climate change and habitat reversal was set to bring shad fisheries back from these low points in the 1950s and 1960s, during a much cooler period (the period is now mentioned as a negative NAO cycle). The 1950s and 1960s a period of cold and powerful storms was the best United States shad landings as catches soared to over 11 million pounds in 1958*.( It is long been recognized that barriers to returning shad (such as dams) need our help or “restoration.” Connecticut has become a national leader in restoring fish passage – and installing “fish ways” over dams. The initial interest in fish restoration can be traced to 1967 legislation under the direction of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Connecticut DEEP continues fish restoration projects with partnerships between local groups, environmental organizations and coastal land trusts.) Previous researchers did mention this heat / habitat and the strength of the “year class” or run. Writing in 1976 William Leggett, then of the Essex Marine Laboratory, one attribute of temperature studies of four rivers found that temperature with peak returns were all “remarkably consistent” on page 173 (Merriam and Thorpe, 1976).

“On the basis of this analysis it seems reasonable to conclude that a significant elevation of temperature in northern rivers could alter the migratory behavior of the shad, perhaps causing the fish to enter the rivers earlier than normal, providing that they were in the area when optimum river temperatures developed. In rivers where the heating occurs below the spawning grounds, as is the case in the Connecticut River, this could result in a prolonged freshwater residence if the shad delayed spawning until temperatures in the spawning are were optimum or, alternatively, spawning might commence immediately, but at temperatures below the optimum, causing a reduction in egg and larval survival.”

The high heat impact of the 1880-1920 period was evidenced by the aquaculture effort developed by Connecticut in its shad “hatcheries.”

Because of the focus upon fishing effort, long term changes in fish populations were concentrated on managing fish catches rather than habitat quality, the long-term impact of temperatures was frequently missed. Habitat quality improvements often resulted in larger runs and larger catches as shad prices remained stable. The catch / abundance fishing statistics for shad long-term often reflect climate transitions – patterns and resulted habitat quality (NAO).

Douglas Moss in his 1965 report, A History of the Connecticut River and Its Fisheries, mentions the very hot period of 1898 (the year of a major lobster die-off in the Long Island Sound and Narragansett Bay – fisher reporting crabs walking out of Narragansett Bay to escape low oxygen waters) as when the Thames and Housatonic shad runs collapsed. This is the section he titled “Further Concern About Shad” on page 9. The Connecticut River run held out longer from cooler waters and its ability to collect cooling ice water melt. The high heat conditions over time are thought to have reduced habitat quality for shad as Director Moss mentions the extinction of the Thames and Housatonic rivers:

“From 1885 through 1892 eighteen million shad fry were stocked in the Housatonic River and smaller numbers in the Thames. Most of these fry were hatched from eggs of Housatonic run of shad. In spite of these operations in artificial propagation and stocking, the shad runs of the Thames and Housatonic became extinct during or shortly after 1898.

Because of doubts of the effectiveness of stocking fry, the Connecticut Fish Commissioners in 1895 laid out a small system of rearing ponds at Joshuatown, Lyme. Several million fry per year were stocked in those ponds and retained until October when they were drawn into the Connecticut River. The retaining ponds supposedly protected the young fish until fall when they were considered large enough to no longer need protection. Several years after these operations started, shad became more numerous and the increase was attributed to the added protection of the retaining ponds. Whatever the cause of that increase may have been, stocking a retaining pond and later releasing fingerlings did not have a similar outcome on the Housatonic. A pond known as Pecks’ Pond was leased by the state and stocked with fry to be released as fingerlings in the Housatonic but after four years’ operation, this procedure was reluctantly halted. It failed to bring back the run to that river. A recapitulation of the rearing operation shows that from 1896 through 1910, 57,029,000 shad fry were placed in the Joshuatown rearing ponds, and from 1899 through 1904, 11,500,000 shad fry were placed in Pecks’ Pond for the Housatonic. There is only passing reference to the possible morality in these ponds; one notes that the morality must be low because very few dead fish were found. It would seem that this assumption would be correct only under the most ideal conditions.”


All for major gear types have had times that historically produced significant shad landings* in Connecticut – notice the highs have occurred during the largely NAO period 1942 to 1972. (Marine Resources Management Plan for the State of Connecticut, prepared by Mark M., Blake, Marine Biologist Marine Fisheries Program, Eric M. Smith, Assistant Director, Bureau of Fisheries Marine Fisheries Program – July 1984.)

Drift gill net – flag or ring type

Highest year – 1946 - 551,000 lbs

Fykes – Anchor Set Traps or Stake Gill Net

Highest year – 1966 - 142,000 lbs

Haul Seine

Highest Year – 1948 – 222,000 lbs

Pounds Nets

Highest Year – 1948 – 55,000 lbs



Habitat Capacity Key to Shad Fisheries

The removal of fish passage blockages was first described in 1867 “Report of the Commissioners Concerning the Protection of Fish in the Connecticut River, &c. to the General Assembly, May Session, 1867.” Those fish restoration efforts continue today – the Connecticut Fund For The Environment and The Nature Conservancy and other civic groups continue to install fish ladders so fish can access spawning habitat and return to the Connecticut River and do so in cooperation and with technical information from the CT Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection. The effort to restore fish passage has placed Connecticut as a leader in these efforts with a foundation its shad fishery.

For more information about shad and alewife restoration efforts an excellent newsletter called the Connecticut Weekly Diadromous Fish Report is available from CT DEEP online and gives fish counts of returning fish at major recording sites along Connecticut’s Coast. It can be found at CT DEEP Marine Fisheries or just search the name CT Diadromous Fish Reports.

Modern Times

The shad fishery of course is linked to the seafood consuming public and the past few years have been good generally for Connecticut. Last year almost 400,000 shad were counted going over fish ladders on their way to spawning habitats. The shad bakes keep this part of Connecticut Shad Fishery history “alive” as new generations learn about the shad fisheries of the past and the future. Many seafood consumers have been trying shad roe and found that once a Native American favorite is now theirs.

Shad fishing continues today along the Connecticut River and its gear is primarily now gillnets. The fyke nets haul seines and traps have long gone out of use. The number of licensed shad fishers has dropped below 20 raising concerns about the future fishery.

I am always interested in fisheries history and stories about fishing gear. Drop me a line at tim.visel@nhboe.net

Model net plans for fykes, pounds, weirs, and gillnets are available for students who would like to build a tabletop model for community presentations. Included in the research would be climate and habitat factors that made choices of gear types significant.

Students interested in related Capstone Projects should contact Sue Weber at susan.weber@nhboe.net for copies and these publications;

1) The Trap Net Fisheries of Guilford, Connecticut
2) The Lost Alewife Weirs of Uncas – A Fish to War Over?
3) Our Connecticut Shad Fishery (four gear types detailed)
4) Old Saybrook Native American Stone Shad and Alewife Weir – South Cove Shad Fishery
5) The Hummers Pond Alewife Project (Madison, CT)
6) Building A Native American Alewife Weir – “The Vee Traps”


Tim Visel
The Sound School


For more information, please contact tim.visel@new-haven.k12.ct.us.

Program reports are available upon request. For more information about New Haven Environmental Monitoring Initiative for IMEP reports, please contact Susan Weber, the Sound School Adult Education and Outreach Program Coordinator, at susan.weber@newhaven.k12.ct.us

For information about The Sound School website, publications and/or alumni contacts, please contact Taylor Samuels at taylor.samuels@new-haven.k12.ct.us
The Sound School is a Regional High School agriculture Science and Technology Center enrolling students from 23 participating Connecticut communities.
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