Category Archives: Issues

Catch a Radio Tagged Brown?

Volunteers from TU, USGS, US Fisheries and Wildlife, and MA Fish and Wildlife tagging fish for the study.

If you are following DRWTU here or through local media, you know we are embarking on a two year-long study of thirty radio-tagged brown trout in the Deerfield River. This collaboration already involves scores of volunteers from TU and partner conservation agencies, biologists from the USGS Silvio Conte Anadromous Fish Lab, and MA Fish and Wildlife. What should you do if you catch one of those radio-tagged trout?

Please gently and quickly unhook and release the trout back into the Deerfield. Then when you get within cell phone coverage, please call and report the catch to DRWTU President Mike Vito at 413-320-1521. You are going to want to report the catch to MA Fish and Wildlife using the link on our banner above.

Tagged browns have a thin wire antenna trailing back from their abdomen.

What if you ‘take’ a tagged fish legally or find a dead fish with a radio tag? Well, we would hope you would forego taking a fish out of our study, but if you choose to take the fish we can reuse the transmitter. Please call 413-320-1521 to make arrangements to turn it in.

The antenna wire is just barely visible in the photo along the flank of this beautiful brown trout.

Devastating Fish Kill on the North River (Updated 9/4/19)

Rainbow trout along with several dace – victims of apparent acid spill on the North River.

The North River is one of the major tributaries of the Deerfield River; it is designated as a ‘Major River’ by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

At about 12:30 PM on September 1, I observed hundreds of dead fish at my house near the confluence with the Deerfield. I traced the multiple sizes and species of dead fish upstream to the Route 112 bridge at Call Road which is just downstream from this Barnhardt Manufacturing plant. On September 2, the DEP confirmed to reporters that a leak of sulfuric acid had occurred at this Barnhardt cotton processing facility.

CORRECTION: The dead fish included the long-nosed sucker a ‘listed’ species in Massachusetts. Read about the special status of this fish at the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species web page. The photograph below turns out to be a Longnose Dace. This species is not listed in MA. However, Leanna Fontaine is the biologist from MA F&W who was called in after I reported the spill to the MA Environmental Police. She left me a voice message today (9/3/19) stating she had seen multiple species in her sojourn out here to the North River including “black nosed and longnose dace and white suckers and longnose suckers, tessellated darters, common shiners, creek chubs and the like and a a couple of salamanders and crayfish.” So she did find longnose suckers – the species of special interest per the MA Natural Heritage and Endangered species.
Hope this information helps to further clarify the significance of this event.

I reported the fish kill and apparent spill to the MA Environmental Police. They reported it to DEP and a MA F&W biologist was notified and investigated. The media started to report the story on September 2. Here’s a video of fellow DRWTU board member Chris Jackson and I being interviewed by Channel 22 news. Here’s the story as reported by the Greenfield Recorder. Watch this website for updates as this story develops.

Through social media many local residents have expressed outrage about the failure of the plant to get the word out that a dangerous chemical had been leaked into a river that is used for fishing and swimming by their children and families. Many questions are still unanswered. Below are some photos taken by a student at Mohawk Trail Regional High School who lives along this stretch of the river.

Join us in our mission to address this issue and protect and preserve coldwater fisheries including the North River and the entire Deerfield River Watershed. Currently we have several conservation projects planned including a study of trout movement using telemetry and a September 28 river clean-up effort at Bardwells Ferry with our partner organization, the Connecticut River Conservancy. A ‘Rock Roll’ to create a cold water refuge for trout at the mouth of the Pelham Brook will get underway as soon as we get the local permits required. Become a member of our chapter, or make a donation By clicking the button below.

Cover photo for the Final Report on the 2018 DRWTU Trout Spawning Study

Spawning Study Final Report

Cover photo for the Final Report on the 2018 DRWTU Trout Spawning Study

We are very excited to be able to share the final report of the Second Deerfield River Trout Spawning Study. The pdf is available to read or download here. The report authored by Erin Rodgers, PhD, with contributions from Mike Hayden, was submitted to TU National on July 13 as part of the final Embrace a Stream grant report. Thanks to the efforts of our members and the friends of DRWTU who participated in this study, we have been able to demonstrate that brown trout spawning on the mainstem of the Deerfield is not an anomaly. The Deerfield River is a wild trout fishery!

DRWTU,MA F&W, and USFW File Comments in Relicensing Process

Update April 25: MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and US Fisheries and Wildlife Service both cited the DRWTU Trout Spawning Studies in comments filed with Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MADEP) (See links below).

MASS Fish & Wildlife Comments
US Fisheries & Wildlife Service Comments

DRWTU Attorney Chris Myhrum has filed two official documents on our behalf intended to impact the relicensing of Fife Brook Dam and the Bear Swamp Project.

What we are asking for in the FERC arena:

  • Increase winter minimum flows in winter to 350 cfs to keep redds adequately covered
  • Ramping up and ramping down to protect young of year fish
  • Earlier in day recreation releases to provide for cold water relief during hot days
  • Reducing disparate hydropeaking events

 Click Here to read or download the entire FERC comment document.

In the MA DEP arena we are advocating for all the same stuff as the FERC venue,  but we are also asking  MA DEP order Brookfield to conduct an Instream Flow Assessment (IFIM) study now, as well as at the time the Great River license comes up for renewal so we can assess hydropeaking impacts on spawning and young of year fish, and other river ecological damage resulting from Brookfield operations.  This IFIM has already been requested in the FERC process multiples times by our agency partners.  Brookfield has offered to conduct a 7 mile stretch survey, however, we want the entire 17 mile stretch done. 

Click Here to read the entire letter to MA DEP.

Somerset Integrated Resource Project


Board Members Chris Jackson, Sheila and Eric Halloran attended a meeting at the invitation of the Connecticut Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Wilmington VT last month. The meeting previewed a more formal presentation of the plan for the US Forestry Service conservation project on a section of the Green Mountain National Forest that includes the headwaters of the Deerfield River in Southern Vermont. TU Biologist Dr. Erin Rodgers also presented at the preview meeting. At the end of the meeting the local TU chapter put out a call for volunteers to get involved in conservation activities and citizen science projects in support of the Forest Services project. We expressed interest in helping out on behalf of the DRWTU Chapter.

We presented our summary of the Proposed plan at the DRWTU Chapter meeting on March 21. Timelines were tentative at that point but now the timelines are set, the public notice has been issued, and the public comment period is open. Follow the link below to see the public notice in the Rutland Herald.

This letter(<—- Click Here) from the Forest Service announces an Open House to be held at the Manchester Community Library on April 11 from 4:30 to 7:30. It also provides details on several options to comment open the plan. Please Note: Only entities that comment on the plan have the option of submitting an objection in response to the final draft of the proposal which is projected to be at the end of the calendar year..

Here’s a link to the US Forestry Service’s slideshow about the project:

Interim Spawning Study Report and Letter to FERC

As co-chair of the DRWTU Conservation Committee, Kevin Parsons has submitted a letter along with the interim report from the second year’s spawning study on the Deerfield River to the Federal Energy Resource Commission. Click Here to see Parsons Letter.

Proposals To Mass Fish & Wildlife

  • DRWTU  is recommending that during the hot summer months of July and August, Mass Fish and Wildlife adopt no fishing zones within 100 feet from the mouths of posted cold-water tributaries: Pelham Brook, Cold River, Chickley River, Avery Brook, Clesson Brook, etc. In many summer months, the mouths of cold-water tributaries offer trout sanctuary from rising temperatures in the river’s mainstem. Schools of vulnerable, relief-seeking trout often congregate near or at the mouths of colder-water tributaries and could become severely stressed from fishing pressure.
  • DRWTU is also recommending that all “Power Baits” should be considered live bait. Power Baits are manufactured specifically with customized scents to attract fish, the same as live bait and chum. If adopted by Mass Fish & Wildlife, Power Baits will be banned in sections of the Deerfield where live bait use is banned .




FERC Re-licensing of the Fife Brook Dam






PO Box 133

Shelburne Falls, MA 01370

December 20, 2016

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

888 First Street, N.E., Room 1 A

Washington, DC 20426

RE: Bear Swamp Project, P-2669-085

Dear Sir/Madam,

This is intended to correct the letter dated December 19, 2016 submitted to FERC. In the December 19, 2016 letter it was incorrectly stated we were looking for this survey request to the Number 5 Dam, when in fact we are seeking the survey to the Number 4 Dam. I apologize for this oversight.

Deerfield River Watershed TU Study Request: Trout Spawning Survey in the Deerfield River from Fife Dam to the Number 4 Dam

Goals and Objectives

*Characterize the population of naturally spawning trout in the Deerfield River below Fife Brook Dam to the Number 4 Dam pond.

*Conduct spawning surveys to map spawning areas (redds), characterize habitat, and determine spawning success and population distribution relative to river flows.

Relevant Resource Management Goals

Not applicable. Requestor is not a tribe or agency.

Public Interest Consideration If Requestor Is Not a Resource Agency

Sections 4(e) and 10(a) of the Federal Power Act give equal consideration to all uses of the waterway on which a project is located, and what conditions should be placed on any license that is issued. Trout Unlimited is an organization committed to protecting and preserving cold water fisheries and the Deerfield River is a documented cold water fishery. TU believes the Deerfield is a good trout river that could be a great trout river if the flow regime were changed to minimize hydro-peaking. The Deerfield River below Fife Brook dam has documented populations of wild trout, there are documented spawning sites (redds) in the Fife Brook section to the Number 4 dam, and TU believes that hydro-peaking has a negative impact on spawning success. There have been no comprehensive studies to date on this subject. Enhancing wild trout populations will improve fishing opportunities, increase interest in the Deerfield as fishing destination, and improve the local economy through increased tourism-thus benefitting the public interest.

Existing Information and Need for Additional Information

There is little scientific data regarding wild trout populations other than the original fisheries studies of the Bear Swamp Project (MADFW, 1977). The MADFW study estimated that between 10% and 16% of the trout harvested in the Project area were naturally produced in the river (wild). At that time, few stocked trout carried over to the following season due to low minimum flows- however after flows were increased in the 1996 settlement agreement the ability for fish to “holdover” to the following year may have changed. The 1977 study documented wild brook, brown, and rainbow trout in the Fife Brook, BSP area of the Deerfield River. The implication is that these fish were spawning in the main stem Deerfield river. Brook trout and brown trout spawn in the fall from October through early December and there are rainbow trout strains that spawn in the fall and others that are spring spawning. To understand the spawning behaviors, location and success of spawning fish would require studying these spawning trout during the spawning season mentioned above-not the summer season. BSPC has completed the field work for its Fish Assemblage Assessment study as required in the Revised Study Plan (RSP) dated September 30th, 2015. In section 5.6 of the RSP, BSP committed to conduct to sampling events-late spring/early summer (May 15-June 30) and late summer/early fall (August 15-September 30)-well outside of the spawning periods for trout species in the Deerfield.

FERC’s Study Plan Determination for the Bear Swamp Project dated October 30, 2015, stated on page B-4, “While the proposed study period for the fish assemblage study would not coincide with the trout spawning period, it is possible that algae regrowth in trout spawning areas will be slow enough to allow some identification of redds in the early portion of the survey period. In addition, even if BSP is unable to identify any redds, the contribution of wild spawning trout to the fishery can be assessed from young-of-year (YOY) and yearling trout abundance data which will be obtained from the fish assemblage sampling (see discussion of Trout Scale Study). Therefore, we do not recommend Trout Unlimited’s proposed modification and we recommend that BS conduct the study as proposed.” MADFW believes that part of this decision was due to reliance by the FERC on a paragraph from a TU member and local guide in a tourist oriented book claiming the Deerfield has a robust wild trout fishery. So rather than looking to science based facts, we apparently live in a post-fact world where an opinion from layperson with no supporting data can be substituted for much needed scientific understanding.

Compounding this apparent desire to shy away from scientific data is the fact that during ISR meeting some interesting things came to light during the discussion. First, the MADFW representatives confirmed that most stocked trout are 12 inches or longer and that no trout are stocked under 10 inches-ever. When asked about the presence of trout under 10 inches and whether they originated from the state stocking program, they replied no. When asked if they were wild fish born in the river, Caleb Slater from MADFW replied that “the fish were likely born in the tributaries and not in the mainstem Deerfield due to hydro-peaking.” Trout Unlimited conducted informal spawning surveys last fall and this fall with members and found no evidence of redds in the tributaries but good numbers of redds by Fife Brook dam (photos are available), above the railroad trestle, below the Zoar Gap, and in the Shunpike stretch. Trout could be seen on the redds at Fife Brook. We are at an impasse as to where these fish are coming from- tributaries, as Mr. Slater speculates with no data to affirm his hypothesis, or the main stem as TU members have documented.

The second issue that pertains to this same topic is the omission by BSP at the ISR Meeting held on November 14, 2016 during the discussion of the Fish Assemblage Study results that redds were found during the May survey. Whether this was by accident or intentional- it is clear the wild trout issue seems to be the one issue BSP clearly wants to avoid. Is BSP afraid that studying wild trout spawning will result in a change to the hydro-peaking flow regime? Clearly the Fish Assemblage Study is inadequate to answer the questions surrounding wild trout in the Fife Brook stretch and better science is required.

Nexus to Project Operations and Effects

Project operations can have a profound effect on fish species such as trout. Peaking operations impact biological interactions, life history requirements, and can limit habitat needed for successful spawning – scouring of redds from peaking, and loss of redds from de-watering are two serious effects of peaking events. These adverse effects from peaking operations are not limited to trout- forage fish species suffer similar negative outcomes too.

Proposed Methodology

Trout Unlimited proposes a Trout Spawning Ground Survey. This survey would verify the distribution and extent of trout spawning in the Deerfield River from Fife Brook to the top of the pond at the Number 4 dam, essentially the end of the Fife Brook peaking flow area. The second purpose of this survey would determine the extent to which redds are de-watered by peaking flows relative to current operations. Surveys should be conducted during peak flows and minimum flows to ascertain whether stranding of redds is occurring from de-watering. A post- spawning season survey will be required that corresponds to fry emergence. This will help determine if spawning is successful in the identified redds. Surveys should be conducted from a small boat, as well as on foot where spawning may be concentrated, documenting the numbers of fish and redds observed. The survey crew will document spawning activity near the shorelines, where redds may be subject to stranding. Efforts will be made to locate all areas of spawning within the free-flowing reach. The approach for identifying spawning areas includes a combination of identifying redds as described above and investigation of channel margins for young-of-year trout when fry are expected to emerge (second survey). Although the intent is to cover as much of the study area as possible, the survey areas will depend on access to the river and safety.

The numbers of fish and redds will be summed over ¼ mile reaches of the river to characterize the magnitude of spawning activity relative to each river reach location, and redds will be marked on maps of the river, with GPS units (hand-held) used to mark redds as well with GPS points around areas of extensive spawning activity. The numbers of redds within these larger areas will be enumerated for density estimates. At each spawning location, whether it contains a single or multiple redds the following information should be recorded: date, time, habitat type, substrate, water velocity, width and length of red, water depth and water temperature. In addition, identified redds should be marked with flags, painted rocks or other method that will allow for subsequent identification. When possible, marking and measuring of redds should be done from a small boat to minimize physical disturbance of the spawning areas.

These sites should be resurveyed as soon as possible at low water to determine if redds are being de-watered when flows decline.

Level of Effort and Cost

This study will require sampling of the Project-affected areas during spring summer and fall. The cost of the study would be moderate to high as seasonal sampling with several types of gear would be required. Based on first year study results, a second year of sampling or specific studies examining the impacts of BSP operations may be requested.

BSP estimated the cost of the Fish Assemblage Study to be around $175,000. TU estimates the cost of this study to be around $40,000.

Very truly yours,

(s) Kevin D. Parsons

Kevin D. Parsons, Chapter President Elect