The above photos from the DEC's Peter Malaty were passed along to me this week. The top photo shows Peter (I think) with a brown trout he recently caught ice fishing in Wildwood Lake in Riverhead (or maybe actually Northampton). The second photo shows a juvenile alewife that came out of the trout's stomach. The story raises a few interesting questions. First, since Woodhull Dam (which forms Wildwood Lake) is an 10-foot high wall of concrete that presents an absolute barrier to alewife migration (tens of thousands of alewife bump their noses up against the dam each spring), how is it that there's young alewife in the lake? The answer to this question I think I know. There are conservation-minded people out there that care about alewife and want to see them recover - for years they've been surreptitiously and illegally (but heroically?) carrying them over the dam and dropping them in the lake. But still, it's a bit surprising that there's enough alewife in the lake that a young-of-the-year was able to survive so long. There must have been quite a few more where this one came from last spring!
The second, more puzzling question is what was this young against-all-odds survivor still doing in the lake come March? Generally, young alewife move downstream into salt water by the time river/lake water temperatures start to drop in the fall. By winter they're usually deep in the bays or already finding their way out to the ocean. Other than landlocked alewife, I haven't heard or read any stories of alewife overwintering in freshwater. So, again, why was this fish still in the lake? The answer to this question I don't know. It may be that, given some combination of conditions, alewife will stay put and not heed the call to migrate. Or it may be that dams like Woodhull are more than barriers to upstream migration - maybe they present an obstacle to downstream migration as well, even for a tiny young alewife. Maybe the alewife shown above wanted to get downstream, but couldn't manage to find the spillway. Any thoughts on this question? I'd love to hear from you.
Regardless of what resulted in Peter's trout lucking into a winter alewife, there's hope that future alewife, both young and old, will have an easier time getting past Woodhull Dam. Suffolk County Parks is currently seeking designs for fish passage at the dam. With enough public and political support, they'll hopefully be funding available someday soon to construct a fish passage structure at the dam. The branch of the Peconic River that leads to the dam already hosts one of the strongest alewife runs on Long Island. If a fish passage can get them past Woodhull, the run will likey grow exponentially (and then our fish-carrying heroes can finally take a break!).