A report released today, The Status of Fish Populations and the Ecology of the Hudson,
produced by Pisces Conservation Ltd., reveals that many Hudson River fish are in serious long-term decline and at risk of collapse if quick and aggressive measures are not taken. Of the thirteen key species studied, ten have declined in abundance since the 1980s: shad, tomcod, bay anchovy, alewife, blueback herring, rainbow smelt, hogchoker, white catfish, weakfish and white perch. Only three species — striped bass, bluefish and spottail shiner — have increased in abundance, mostly due to regulations and circumstantial changes that favor them. Contrary to public perception, this report shows an increasingly unstable ecosystem in the Hudson.
The decline of Hudson River fish has serious implications for the health of ocean fisheries because the Hudson is one of the most important estuaries along the Atlantic seaboard, serving as a critical spawning ground and nursery for many Atlantic species.
In response to the report’s findings, Riverkeeper is launching the Hudson Fisheries Defense Campaign to halt the decline of the river’s signature fish species and restore their numbers to sustainable levels. The campaign will address the many negative impacts on the health of the fish including: invasive species, power plant fishkills, ocean bycatch, habitat loss and degradation, sewage overflows and overfishing.
“The Pisces Report puts a lie to the power plant industry claim that the Hudson’s fish populations are healthy and robust,” said Riverkeeper president Alex Matthiessen. “More disturbing still is what the fish declines say about the ecological condition of the Hudson River which, despite much progress over the last four decades, seems to be increasingly unstable. If we are serious about restoring these fish to sustainable levels, we must squarely address all the contributing factors, regardless of their relative weight.”
Background on power plant fishkills: Riverkeeper, along with Scenic Hudson and the Natural Resources Defense Council, has fought to have the “best technology available” (BTA) installed in all Hudson River power plants, as required by the Clean Water Act. Closed-cycle cooling is considered BTA because it would eliminate 95% of the massive fish kills currently caused by the power plants, which use river water to cool their facilities and discharge heated water back into the river, lowering dissolved oxygen levels. The analysis by Pisces Conservation uses the data collected by the power plants since the 1980s. Pisces found that the data belies the claims of Hudson River power plant operators that “the Hudson River has a healthy and robust fish population.”