Fish in narragansett Bay

striped bass

Narragansett Bay is home to a wide range of fish species, from black sea bass, flounder, scup, and winter flounder to bluefish, striped bass and menhaden. These species are an important part of our Bay and coastal ecosystem. These fish are widely valued for commercial and recreational fishing, and are part of the fabric of the economy and culture of Southeastern New England. 

Many species of migratory fish inhabit Bay waters. Historically, species such as sturgeon have used the large mainstem rivers such as the Blackstone and Taunton to spawn, while others, such as river herring and American eel, use small tributaries for important parts of their life cycles. Today, we are trying to restore the numbers of fish that return to the Bay by removing dams or building fish ladders in freshwater rivers. 

There are two types of migratory fish, anadromous fish such as river herring, shad, and rainbow smelt, which live in the ocean and migrate upstream to spawn in the spring; and catadromous fish, such as American eel that use the tributaries to grow into adults and then return to the ocean to spawn. All of the migratory fish that come to the Bay and its watershed are important sources of food for other species such as striped bass and bluefish, which are in turn sources of food for seals and other marine mammals.

One of our most historically important species is the river herring (or alewife), which return in large numbers every spring and can be seen at various fish ladders around the state. These fish have been declining in recent years and efforts are being made to increase their habitat in the Bay. Save The Bay works with project partners in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts to build fish ladders and remove dams to reconnect habitats for these fish.

Fish Run Fact Sheet

Benefits of Dam Removal

  • Improves fish passage and movement (for migratory fish, eliminates the need for and cost of fishway operation and maintenance)
  • Restores natural water temperatures and oxygen levels
  • More paddling and less portaging for canoes and other watercraft
  • Improves sediment transport, including beach nourishment in coastal areas
  • Reduces liability concerns for dam owners, and, depending on the dam site, eliminates public safety hazards