Fish ladder is a Long Island first

April 1, 2008 5:11:09 AM PDT

The long, gently sloping chute is designed to slow the flow of some of the water cascading down a dam in the Carmans River, so alewives and other fish can swim up to spawn in Hards Lake. State and federal agencies and private conservation and sportfishing groups worked together on the $200,000 project, unveiled Monday at Southaven County Park.

Thousands of alewives - a form of river herring - gather each spring to spawn in the Carmans River, said Jake Kritzer, a marine ecologist with the Environmental Defense Fund. The 6-foot-tall dam has made it hard for the fish to reach the lake, forcing them to spawn in less ideal spots.

Born in fresh water, alewives spend their adult lives at sea, where some of their predators are prime targets for anglers.

Fishing, dams and pollution have shrunk alewife populations, and the National Marine Fisheries Service has listed the fish as a "species of concern."

"If we can restore the alewife populations, there is real hope for all the other fish in the environment," said Charles Guthrie, a regional fisheries manager for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Alewives are found from North Carolina to the Canadian province of Newfoundland. They can grow as long as 15 inches and live up to 10 years, according to the Fisheries Service.

Fish ladders have been installed in various places around the country to help salmon, trout and other species reach their breeding grounds.