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A Critical Narragansett Bay Habitat
  • Fish can reach spawning grounds in only 18 of 45 historic runs in the Narragansett Bay Watershed.
  • Atlantic salmon runs have been eliminated in Narragansett Bay.
  • 91% of Narragansett Bay watershed's historic fish runs are in need of restoration.

What is a Fish Run?

  • a freshwater river or stream that flows directly into the Bay;
  • the place where native herring, salmon, smelt and shad return from the ocean each spring to spawn in the rivers or streams where they were born;
  • an important food source for various fish and bird species, including striped bass, bluefish, herons, otter and osprey, in both the freshwater and marine environment (RIDEM, 1996; Desbonnet & Lee, 1991);
  • a necessary component in maintaining commercially significant and recreationally valuable fish populations.

What is the Value of Fish Runs?
River herring, Atlantic salmon, rainbow smelt, sturgeon and American shad depend on fish runs for survival. They are anadromous fish, meaning they are born in freshwater rivers, streams, brooks and ponds but mature and spend their adult lives in Narragansett Bay or the ocean. Each spring, these fish instinctively fight their way upstream to return to the freshwater rivers and streams where they were born in order to spawn. The journey to spawning grounds is not an easy one – along many streams and rivers in Rhode Island, dams and culverts act as barriers, preventing fish from swimming upstream to reach spawning habitats. Furthermore, the instinct to return to a particular place of origin is too strong to allow them to choose another river, creek, or stream. Narragansett Bay previously supported commercially valuable Atlantic salmon and alewife (river herring) fisheries. However, the Industrial Revolution combined with overfishing created havoc with the migratory patterns of these anadromous fish. The Blackstone and Pawtuxet Rivers each ended up with one power-producing dam for every mile of river by the middle of the 19th century, and therefore many fish runs simply disappeared. The Atlantic salmon was completely eliminated from its Narragansett Bay spawning runs by 1869.

Why are Fish Runs Threatened?
Our fish runs are severely threatened, but enormous opportunities exist to restore viable self-sustaining fish runs. Many of the dams and water impoundments that exist on Narragansett Bay tributaries no longer serve the useful purposes they were originally intended for. Some of these ancient structures are in severe states of decay and disrepair, and threaten public safety. In Narragansett Bay’s watershed, there are at least 41 streams and rivers that have potential for fish run restoration in both RI and MA. There are 18 existing fish runs in the Narragansett Bay watershed but most of these existing runs are in need of further restoration. Historically, at least 45 runs existed in the Narragansett Bay watershed Among these are four of the most significant freshwater tributaries of Narragansett Bay – the Taunton, Blackstone, Pawtuxet and Ten Mile rivers.

How Can Fish Runs be Restored?
There are many important steps we must take to restore our fish runs. Not only can we remove unnecessary dams and build effective fishways, we can also restore stream habitats like forested riverbank wetlands and improve water quality by reducing pollution discharges to make these rivers and streams once again productive fish runs.


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Restoring homes 
of lobster, crabs, scallops and fish.

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