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A trip to the fish elevator

Behold the powerful falls at the Holyoke dam. Holyoke Gas and Electric generates power here.

This dam is a barrier to fish that need to get upstream to spawn. There have been various means of solving this problem, but at present it's a literal elevator, a huge mechanism powered by giant turbines and with great chains that lift boxes of water, packed with fish, up above the falls. Yesterday Wakanomori and I went to see it--a marvelous experience!

It has very cute signposts:
Enter Fishway

In the informational room, there's a diagram that shows how the elevator works. You can see the giant turbines:

How the elevator works

And a tally of how many fish have been lifted: yesterday was a record for American shad. (In the colonial days, they used to say that when the shad were running, you could walk across the Connecticut river on their backs.)

Fish elevator totals

Wakanomori asked if the fish counters were volunteers, and the very friendly docent, who was a retired history teacher, explained that no: they were students from the local community college, usually in an environmental course, who are hired to do it. This guy knew everything; it was great.

The room housing the turbines (or, I should say, the space above the turbines) would make a good setting for a James Bond movie. That big circle on the floor is right above one of the turbines. The catwalk above this space had photos from the 1880s about the creation of the dam.

top of the giant turbine

Then we went out and saw the actual elevators (there are two) lifting the fish. This link is to a very brief (1.05 minute), noisy video of the elevator coming up.

See the spiderweb by the chain? What a great contrast. Or complement. Two kinds of strength.

chain and spiderweb

Then we hurried over to the viewing windows to see all the lifted fish. It was a blast! Those long wormy things are sea lampreys, not, as I wrongly guessed, eels, though eels do get lifted too.

Watching the fish:

watching the lifted fish

Meanwhile, downstream, a shad fishing derby was going on. We went and talked to some of the people fishing, and in the 15 or so minutes we were there, they caught about four fish. It was remarkable.

caught a fish catching a fish

One old guy told me that shad are very, very bony, but if you bake them in vinegar, the vinegar dissolves the bones! He said you could learn anything you needed to know about fishing for shad just by watching for a few minutes, then showed me the person casting, catching, reeling in. They don't use bait, he said, because the shad aren't interested in eating--they're coming up just to spawn. He said they attack the bare hook out of aggressiveness. Because it was a fishing derby, and you win a prize for the heaviest fish, some people were catching and releasing smaller fish--we saw one successfully released. "What's the record weight at the tent?" the old guy asked. We'd stopped by, so we knew: it was 5.5 pounds. "Yeah, that was set the first day of the derby," the guy said. So no one had broken it yet.

This old guy, he was wearing a hat that said "NRA" and the back of his T-shirt said "America's freedom wasn't won with licensed guns," self-IDs that would generally be offputting for me, but he was the soul of friendly hospitality, telling me about how to get a fishing license, sharing that recipe--it was great. Also, his little group was right next to a group of Chinese-speaking folks, so . . . it was nice.

the river

Connecticut River below the Holyoke dam

This entry was originally posted at http://asakiyume.dreamwidth.org/851344.html. Comments are welcome at either location.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 21st, 2017 11:21 am (UTC)
What a very cool outing!
May. 21st, 2017 02:07 pm (UTC)
It was marvelous. I was sorry to say goodbye:

exiting the fishway
May. 21st, 2017 12:14 pm (UTC)
What an amazing place! And the numbers of shad are pretty impressive too.

There's a place on the River Frome where they count the numbers of migrating salmon - I remember visiting it as a kid. But I think these days the salmon number in their hundreds rather than their tens of thousands...
May. 21st, 2017 02:06 pm (UTC)
It's kind of scary, the fluctuations. Wakanomori got a sheet that had a printout of the numbers over the years, and blueback herring, which had numbers in the hundreds of thousands in the 1980s and early 1990s, have only had numbers in the hundreds since 2005, and last year had only 137. Atlantic salmon had numbers in the hundreds in the 1990s, but had only 3 last year (13 the year before and 26 the year before that). American shad, on the other hand, were only in the thousands and tens of thousands in the 1950s and 1960s, but are up in the hundreds of thousands now.
May. 21st, 2017 01:00 pm (UTC)
This makes me proud to be human (sometimes I'm not) - solving energy problems and taking care of the animals too. Very cool.
May. 21st, 2017 02:00 pm (UTC)
I felt the same way! I got all full in the chest thinking, sometimes **this** is what we put our intellect toward; sometimes **this** is what engines and turbines can do. I practically got tears in my eyes, thinking about it.

Holyoke is a very poor city, but thanks to owning this electricity company, residents of Holyoke get electricity for 65 cents for every dollar (on average) that residents of neighboring communities spend.
May. 21st, 2017 09:03 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry to see so few sturgeon lifted, though. I love sturgeon in every way.
May. 21st, 2017 10:35 pm (UTC)
Me tooooo. I hope they get at least one or two sturgeon before the season ends.
May. 22nd, 2017 09:07 am (UTC)
I missed most of this on DW! It's later in the day now, evening, and so I'm looking through things in a more leisurely way. :) And this is even more lovely now that I see all of it.
I especially love the humanness of the interactions at the end - though it's making me sad, too, as I think of the possibilities that we miss ("we" meaning humans in general!) all the time for meeting each other gently and easily like this.
May. 22nd, 2017 10:21 am (UTC)
Friendly interaction really is a delicate sprout that's easy to kill, sadly. Those circumstances: a relaxed weekend, in the cool sunlight of late spring/early summer, with one party eager to learn and the other party delighted to share--that's the perfect medium for it. It's too bad daily life doesn't provide that medium often...
May. 25th, 2017 08:26 pm (UTC)
Always wanted to do this. Good for you!
Jun. 10th, 2017 09:02 am (UTC)
I'm amazed you knew about it! It was news to me when Wakanomori told me about it. It's definitely a great place to visit.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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