ORLEANS — The fishway reconstruction project at Pilgrim Lake is being called a great partnership between the town and the state Division of Marine Fisheries. Together the agencies are replacing an aging structure that is failing to serving migrating herring and American eel.
“It's a project our committee and volunteers have been advocating for several years,” Judy Scanlon, a member of the shellfish and waterways improvement advisory committee, said last Thursday at the construction site.
“This is a continuation of earlier renovations completed on this same run. This is the fourth project in a sequence of projects to improve this run.”
Brad Chase, senior biologist and diadromous fish project leader for the state Division of Marine Fisheries, said 60 feet of the run was replaced in 2014 and 60 more feet in 2015. The run extends 410 feet from Lonnies Pond, a terminal pond of Pleasant Bay.
The weir and pool fishway now under construction will have seven slots and seven steps, making passage easier for the fish by providing six pools for fish to rest in during the upstream climb into the lake. There will also be a fish counter in the last slot to provide an accurate count of fish passage, Chase said. The two-slot fishway it replaces was built in 1930s.
Chase, who is also the chairman of the Harwich Conservation Commission, has been a big supporter of the artificial reef constructed off the Harwich shoreline two years ago using old and malformed sections of concrete. He said the concrete from the old fishway has been transported to the Harwich landfill to be used to expand the reef in Nantucket Sound.
Chase said DMF did another fishway reconstruction project in Falmouth in 2016 and transported that concrete to the Harwich landfill for future use in expanding the reef, which has become a welcoming marine habitat
for a number of fish species and provided a popular location for recreational fishing.
Scanlon said she serves as technical coordinator for the Orleans herring and eel count program, which involves more than 60 volunteers who have been counting herring in the run for 11 years. Collection of the data helps DMF make management decisions, she said, but none of it would be possible without the dedication and enthusiasm of the volunteers.
“I've been passionate about herring since I was a child,” said Scanlon, a marine biologist. “I've been helping them since I was a kid. Even though our run is small, we have seen an overall increase in the number of fish counted.”
The old concrete fishway has degraded and its design limitations have made it hard for fish to pass. Fish would get “tossed and beaten up against the concrete walls,” Scanlon said. She also said some of the footing of the fishway was eroding, so the partnership was formed between the town and DMF to build a new weir and pool fishway here.
Chase said there was a plan before the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service to redevelop the whole length of the run from Lonnies Pond to Pilgrim Lake with an estimated cost of $1.1 million. But that project never came to fruition.
There was a point several years ago when young catadromous American eels, also known as glass eels, were having trouble getting through the final step leading into Pilgrim Lake. The American eel spawns in the Sargasso Sea but spends most of its life in freshwater ponds.
In 2011, DMF, under the direction and design of Ed Clark, who heads the fishway construction crew, built the first gravity-fed pass for eels in New England to provide better passage. Chase said DMF built similar passes at nine sites after seeing the success of Clark's design, but the Orleans location drew more eel passage than any other. The counts two years in a row showed more than 40,000 eels entering the pond, Chase said.
With the new fishway design, there will be no need for the gravity fed passage, he added.
Scanlon said the board of selectmen agreed to provide the funding for the project. DMF did the design and its fishway crew is building the structure. The town is responsible for purchasing materials. Chase said the town's department of public works and water department have stepped up with site preparation, including necessary excavation work.
“They've been cooperative, fantastic,” Chase said. “This is a really good example of the state and town working together on a project.”
The fishway reconstruction project was approved by the conservation commission on Sept. 4. The DMF permit for the project was issued on Aug. 30. The project is anticipated to take no more than three weeks.