Sunday, June 12, 2011

Last Gasp On the North East

A shad lay on its side, still passing water over its gills but barely. Its body was dark purple and blue mottled instead of clean silver. A sad sight, but the shad had run its course. This is the natural order. Shad migrate in the spring and some of them die in the process, unlike salmon where each migrant swims upstream to its death. Many shad return year after year to spawn. But this shad was one of the group that wouldn’t be returning next year. As I watched this fish futilely work to pump water over its gills, gasping for water, I felt for this animal. It obviously wanted to live. It was struggling to survive even though it was such an obvious futile attempt. At the same time, this was a sign of hope. That shad are here at all is a miracle. The North East is a fairly impacted stream. It is eutrophic, heavy with sediments, and there is a short dam a half mile upstream, that I bet is just tall enough to stop shad from making their way any further up the North East. But this fish was here, which I assumed meant it made its way as far upstream as it could, laid its eggs, or fertilized some, and set the process in motion for future runs of shad. This fish lived the life it was supposed to live and now it was done. There shouldn’t be anything sad about that, but rather there should be joy, and hope that we should all be so lucky.
I continued on over thick growths of stringy algae, signs of over fertilized water, fertilizers we put in creeks by what we put on land: lawn fertilizers, animals waste, even car exhaust is a huge source of nitrogen. But the sunnies didn’t mind and as I floated into a large eddy to the side of a short riffle, I was greeted by curious small bluegill, and large defensive male pumpkin seeds in full red coloration. I stayed for as long as the cold water would allow, watching the blue gill get closer, and the pumpkin seeds take aggressive postures then swim off in a tight circle only to return nose to nose with me. A lot of these fish are non –native. Many species of sunfish were introduced here and they have become part of the natural aquatic backdrop. The algae don’t belong here either, at least not in these quantities. The only thing I saw today that belongs in the North East was the dying shad. But even in this impacted stream there is something of worth and value to see. For the North East that’s ancient migrations hanging on, and in some cases making a comeback, and non-native fish putting on incredible displays of color and territoriality.

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