For the sake of a prey fish species important to the marine food chain, the Southampton Town Trustees installed a fish ladder Thursday at a creek in North Sea that they hope will result in more fish surviving migration.
The fish ladder came just in time, as the first waves the annual migration were spotted Saturday by Trustee Fred Havemeyer. A fish ladder is a series of pools of water that fish can use to rest and to jump from one to another to swim upstream. In this instance, the fish are alewives, a type of herring, and their destination is Big Fresh Pond, where they go to spawn before returning to the ocean. The fish ladder is located on the east side of North Sea Road, just south of the Millstone Brook Road intersection, and Eric Shultz, the president of the Trustees, says he wants to make the "alewives run" a tourist attraction and put up a sign letting passersby know they can pull over and watch as hundreds or thousands of fish a day swim against the current.
The stream starts at the head of North Sea Harbor, and Town Trustees marine maintenance workers clear the entire length of the stream of branches and debris each year to ensure the alewives can complete their migration.
Trustee Ed Warner said the new addition of the fish ladder will add depth to the stream as fish try to swim under North Sea Road, compensating for a lack of rainfall and water coming from Big Fresh Pond.
Havemeyer said that Southampton's early settlers relied on the annual alewives run. "Historically, they are important because the alewife run was used by the early settlers not only as a food source but also as a fertilizer," he said Thursday. He added that alewives remain important today because of their role in the food chain, both at sea and for the raccoons, river otters and ospreys that prey on them during migration.
Havemeyer noted that former East Hampton Town Natural Resources Director Larry Penny had tried to reintroduce alewives to East Hampton ponds, but population haven't taken hold yet.