Fish Lift At Conowingo Dam To Help Restore American Shad

HARFORD COUNTY, Md. (WJZ)—Spring means heavy lifting at Conowingo Dam in Harford County.

Alex DeMetrick reports the effort lifts hundreds of thousands of fish up and over the dam.

These fish aren’t just swimming by. They’re swimming by several stories above the Susquehanna River.

The Conowingo Dam, which generates clean hydro-electric power to thousands of homes, is also a massive roadblock to fish who migrate upstream to spawn.

So, “the fish lift was built in 1991. Been operating since then,” said Kenneth Poletti, general manager of Conowingo Dam.

It starts with a release of water from the top of the dam, creating an artificial current that lures fish into a narrow channel.

Programmed to swim into rushing water, it’s irresistible.

“The fish lift operates, it attracts all fish that are moving up the river, migrating upriver,” Poletti said.

But it’s one special fish that’s the focus: The American Shad.

Once a major food source for a young nation, dams blocking spawning grounds shrank the population.

So every spring, biologists catch what they can at Conowingo and inject them with hormones to speed up reproduction.

“Pull away a few scales, inject and that’s it,” a biologist said.

Fertilized eggs are taken to a hatchery to help re-stock the population.

But the fish lift at the dam aims for a more natural approach. All it does is provide a ride from below the dam to over the top.

This fish lift lasts only as long as the Shad are running, and it moves a lot of fish.

“Last year we moved over 1.1 million fish,” Poletti said.

Most are not American Shad.

But 23 springs adds up, and over 1.3 million American Shad have been lifted upriver.

The fish lift at Conowingo operates until the middle of June, when the American Shad migration typically ends.

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