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Herring Return to Bronx River

HOST INTRO: It’s been 400 years since herring have been able to raise their families in the Bronx River. That was because of a dam dutch settlers built But as of today the herring can come back. That’s because a new fish ladder over an historic Dutch dam… to calm waters fit for breeding. Cassandra Basler reports.


The Bronx River has been through a lot. After the dutch built their dams… they built paper mills that began centuries of pollution.

Linda Cox is the Executive Director of the Bronx River Alliance. She says it’s been a long time since the river… has been fit for fish.

COX: This river was so used for industry since the 1600s that it started getting treated as kind of a sewer a long time ago. (0:11)

Cox says New York City’s only real fresh water river… was basically a 20-mile long sewer. And that had consequences.

COX: People sometimes don’t think this is a real river. With things like. Real fish. (0:06)

Millions of dollars of investment over the past few decades helped clean out the trash and tires… but the wildlife has been slow to return.

It got some help this morning.

The groups in the Bronx River Alliance came together to unveil what’s called a fish ladder, where Herring will swim up from the Ocean to spawn. From the outside, the ladder looks like a metal slide that snakes up the left side of the dam. The 10-inch long, silvery fish will hang out at the mouth of the ladder’s opening and enter one by one. The fish flop up from a series of shallow pools built in steps.

Marit Larson from the Natural Resources Group at the Parks Department says those little herring don’t stop there.

LARSON: There’s a resting pool halfway up the ramp and they’ll turn the corner and sprint up the next section. Then they’ll turn the corner and sprint up the next section. Then they’re going to swim through a tunnel where we count them and past a video camera where we’ll video them.

Then, herring the dam into calm waters. That’s… where the magic happens.

LARSON: They’ll meet up and spawn. (0:02)

That’s good because these fish are close to endangered. Jake Labelle, a researcher at the Wildlife Conservation Society, says the river is clean enough for herring to live in, but people can’t fish for them.

LABELLE: Their population’s declined so much that we actually put a halt on fishing for them in rivers. So you wouldn’t want to eat them out of the Bronx River anyways. (0:09)

Fish researchers like Labelle are hopeful the Bronx River can help these fish… and the animals that eat them…make a comeback. This project has taken about 15 years… and a lot of collaboration between environmental groups that rallied to clean up the waters. Here, they’re all celebrating.

Jim Turek from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says this is one of almost 300 fish ladders installed on the East Coast. But it’s special because it’s in the city. People in his line of work can’t wait to… catch up.

TUREK: These are all fish experts that we have here today in the crowd… so that’s a good thing. We spend a lot of time either learning about fish or going fishing for fish. (0:10)

Turek says he and his fellow fish experts are looking forward to what’s next. This spring… Bronx River Alliance will monitor how many fish make it past the dam. It’s planning on installing another ladder a half a mile up the river.

Cassandra Basler. Columbia Radio News.


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