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Dam-Locked Salmon

To the Editor:

The Boquet River should be an epic fishery and an emblem of nature’s resilience. Instead, it is stuck within a series of management decisions that are misinformed, inefficient and entrenched.

I grew up dreaming that I was one of the pioneering explorers in this region, either Hudson or Champlain, arriving at the mouth of a tributary and seeing large trout and salmon. Historical records paint a picture of salmon providing balance to entire ecosystems, including the humans who relied on their meat for sustenance. That dream has an unprecedented opportunity to be real again in the Boquet watershed, and surprisingly little stands in the way of the ancestral migration of these great fish.

The Department of Environmental Conservation has already done a great deal to eliminate the primary threats to landlocked salmon in Lake Champlain. By pursuing modest harvest regulations and striving to reduce the impact of lamprey, DEC has already reversed a great deal of damaging historical patterns. Conservation organizations like BRASS are also playing a large part in restoring habitat. And while pollution is still a major threat, industrial uses of the river have been all but halted. The salmons’ main threat today, as it was at the turn of the century, is manmade. The dam at Willsboro creates a serious barrier to salmon, both physically and existentially.

The Willsboro Dam presents several problems for Champlain salmon. First, and most obviously, the fish ladder designed to accommodate spawning fish is unnatural for salmon and leaves many in the pools below—all dressed up and nowhere to spawn. It’s a great idea in theory, less so in practice. This year, the water is particularly low so the fish ladder isn’t even holding enough water for fish to use it.

Second, the dam creates about ¼ mile of dead water above the dam which is neither cold nor oxygenated. Salmon need both of these conditions to prevent fatigue in their early stages of migration.

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