Experts say over-fishing, not thermal discharge, source of American Shad underpopulation

By Rep. Mike Hebert (R-Vernon)

At his Feb. 17 press conference at the Vermont Statehouse, Mr. Andrew Fisk, Executive Director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council, made some vague claims about Vermont Yankee’s warm water discharge affecting the shad population.

I asked him two questions which any self-professed authority on local aquatic life should have answered easily. Are you familiar with the presence and function of Station 7 (Vermont Yankee’s up-river monitoring station) and Station 3 (the down-river monitoring station)? Do you know that the area below the Vernon Dam is recognized as an excellent fishery for walleye, bass and other species? His inability to answer these simple questions troubled me, so I decided to investigate his assertions.

Mr. Fisk implied the decreasing American Shad population at the Vernon fish ladder has been caused by Vermont Yankee discharging condenser-cooled water into the river. I have been fishing the Connecticut River for nearly sixty years. I agree, the shad population has decreased. Why?

According to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, over-fishing has been blamed for historical declines in shad in the Hudson and Connecticut Rivers as well as rivers in Maryland, North Carolina and Florida. The Atlantic States Fisheries Commission has implemented an Atlantic Coast-wide management plan for American Shad and River Herring to facilitate cooperative management and restoration plans among the states. Restoration efforts have included habitat improvements, fish passage, stocking and transfer programs. Despite improved returns in some major rivers, the abundance of American Shad is well below historic levels.

This is an issue for the entire Eastern Seaboard. It does this valuable resource undue harm to advance a political, ideological agenda by issuing unfounded statements that detract attention from the real problem.

I guess Vermont Yankee is a red herring. Please pardon the pun, I couldn’t help myself!

Across the river, New Hampshire Fish and Game fisheries biologists conducting a creel survey of walleye anglers at the Bellows Falls Dam and Vernon Dam also noted the water temperature. They found variations of only a few degrees and no significant difference on the type and number of fish being caught.

After listening to Mr. Fisk and reviewing the materials at his press conference, and then doing my own investigation, here are my conclusions. Mr. Fisk and his organization want to force Vermont Yankee to incur the unnecessary expense of operating the cooling towers year round, even during the winter months in which the intact water is less than forty degrees. The ultimate goal is to force the closure of Vermont Yankee by any means possible.

Mr. Fisk is not the only Vermont Yankee opponent to build a case around incomplete statements, innuendo, outlandish accusations and inaccuracies. I actually heard an “expert” witness express a fear that someone on the New Hampshire side of the river would shoot the dry cask storage containers and cause a meltdown. Sounded a bit over the top to me, but I do try to follow up before jumping to conclusions. I recently toured the plant and saw the dry cask storage containers. There is no line of sight to the containers from outside the plant property and given the size, material and thickness of the containers I am not sure what caliber of weapon one would need to pierce the container. Also, this “expert” should have known that even if breached there would be no meltdown.

In the same vein, an advertisement paid for by Mr. Fisk’s organization said Vermont Yankee is boiling the fish in the Connecticut River. The statements may appear to be harmless hyperbole, however given the same organization’s coordinated engagement in official testimony and a televised press conference, these statements should not be given a “pass”. Mr. Fisk and many other opponents of Vermont Yankee demand that which they do not require of themselves: honest debate and accurate presentation of the facts.