Dam Removal And Fish Populations


The fish species that inhabit these waters are both anadromous and catadromous. Catadromous species live in freshwater and go to salt water for spawning. Anadromous are the opposite only visiting freshwater for spawning. Therefore the free flowing water of the Tye is very important for the reproductive cycle of certain fish species (Service). Historically Shad, a popular game fish, was found in the James River and according to Alan Weaver of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Fish Passage program, a shad hatchery was, at one time, near the mouth of the Tye River at Norwood. Shad, an anadromous species would travel to the inland rivers for spawning. This migration was stalled for many years when a mill dam was built on the Tye River. The dam was located just 13 miles upstream from the confluence of the Tye and the James River (Blakenship). Dams and urban construction led to a near depletion of this important fish species. The number of shad got so low that recreational fishing was halted in 1994 in order to allow the population to restore itself. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) took this population restoration one step further by establishing a hatchery stocking program and tagging individuals for future monitoring. The fish are being raised in the Pamunkey River and being released into the James River. Dam removals have been instrumental in restoring the habitat for shad. The results of the VDGIF monitoring programs have been positive (Fisheries, On the Road to Recovery: American Shad Restoration). With the history of the species’ presence in the Tye and the removal of the Quinn Dam in 2007, it is hopeful that the population will one day return.

Some of the fish species found in the Tye in present day are American eels, small and largemouth bass, and native mussels. The American Eel is a catadromous species. It comes to the Tye and the James River to mature and then returns to the Sargasso Sea (Fisheries, Virginia Fishes). The Sea Lamprey is a species that has been long associated with invasive species control programs in the Great Lakes. In the Great Lakes region the Sea Lamprey has been a detriment to native fish species (Commission). However, in the rivers of central Virginia the Sea Lamprey is actually a native species. According to Alan Weaver of VDGIF, in recent fish counts Sea Lamprey has been found in the Tye River. The Sea Lamprey is native to Virginia’s coast. It is an anadromous species and return to Virginia rivers for spawning. This fact is not well known and, unfortunately the Sea Lamprey is most notable as an invasive species. Many efforts have been taken to control the Sea Lamprey in the Great Lakes area, as it is associated with the destruction of natural, native fish habitat. In this area, however, the Sea Lamprey should be identified as a native species.


The Quinn Dam, located 13 miles upstream from the confluence of the James and Tye Rivers was not in great shape and served no purpose in the present day. The family that owned the dam requested that it be brought down. Many community members, local interest groups, adjacent property owners and the VDGIF supported the removal of the Quinn Dam. In 2007, they worked together to have the abandoned dam removed (Organizing). The removal of the dam made the river more accessible for recreational uses and would hopefully see the return of the migratory fish that once inhabited these waters.

Removal of the Quinn Dam brought about a lot of change to the section that once housed the dam. While in place, the dam had a hole in it which channeled the water running through it to one side. This, in turn, quickly eroded one side of the riverbank. Removing the dam gave the water a wider course to run which stopped the one-sided bank erosion. Previous to the removal, expectations of restored fish habitat were hopeful. Currently there is no on-going fish monitoring on the Tye Rive but VDGIF agreed to perform fish monitoring before and after the removal to note any immediate change in the river. The hole in the dam allowed some of the water to flow through, which prevented large amounts of water to pool. However, where some pools had been established, silt and other finer materials had accumulated. Monitoring after the removal showed that those material were gone leaving a more natural substrate. The pre-dam removal monitoring first took place in April of 2007 and again only above the dam in June of 2007. The VDGIF used large tote barges to navigate the waters and sample both above and below the dam. Electrofishing was the survey method used in June of 2007 and June of 2008. This method is the most humane and effective way for tagging and monitoring fish species. The fish were identified to species, measured in length and weight and tagged and released. The species were entered into a spreadsheet for comparison with post-dam removal data. The post-dam removal sampling occurred in June 2008. Many of the same species were found. The sampling took place fairly soon after the dam was removed, which did not allow much time for long-term habitat restoration. However, it is expected to see long-term benefits in the way of anadromous and catadromous species that once inhabited these waters but were not found in pre or post-dam removal sampling. The acquired data will be entered into the VDGIF Warm Water Streams database. Although no immediate benefits were seen in fish habitat, the monitoring did identify opportunities for the potential of restored habitat and the possibility for future monitoring to document any long term benefits from the removal. The VDGIF plans to do follow-up monitoring in 2010 or 2011. Two additional sites are identified but have not yet been monitored. These sites are a further distance from the dam site and will potentially be included in future monitoring (Personal Communication with Alan Weaver, DGIF).


A similar, but much more involved dam removal took place on the Rivanna River at Woolen Mills Dam. Although there was some controversy, this dam removal was also condoned by the owners of the dam and many adjacent landowners. The Rivanna Conservation Society worked for seven year in planning and deliberating the removal of the Woolen Mills Dam. Rapid restoration of shad and other migratory fish species habitat was expected following the removal of the dam. The University of Virginia graduate program, commissioned by the Rivanna Conservation Society, is currently monitoring the river for the before and after effects of the dam removal. A report documenting their findings is expected to be published in late 2010 or 2011 through the University of Virginia and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (R. C. Society).


Near the headwaters of the Tye River is one of VDGIF’s most important facilities, the Montebello State Fish Hatchery. This is the smallest trout hatchery in the state, but because of its location, draws the largest number of visitors. Virginia’s Urban Fishing Program relies on the Montebello hatchery as its main source of trout. Brook, rainbow and brown trout are grown in mass quantities and used to supply the Urban Fishing Program as well as the local popular trout fishing waterways like the Tye. The Tye River is noted as one of the best places in Virginia for fly fishing. The river is stocked by the Fish and Wildlife Service with trout six times between October and May. The area of the river that has been stocked is denoted with a sign (Fisheries, 2009 Catchable Trout Stocking Plan).

In 2005, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) did a study on the economic benefits of stocking rivers. Most economic return is generated by recreational fishing provided by stocking. Hatcheries are often owned and operated by state or federal agencies. Many of the hatcheries are established to rehabilitate populations that have been minimized due to dam construction or other obstructions in the river. The local and regional economies have benefited from these restoration efforts by increasing the recreational opportunities on the river. Some facilities put their efforts toward endangered species or other aquatic species that may be suffering from a lack of ecosystem diversity or stability. The general outcome of the study showed that local economies saw economic return from recreation, tourism and the creation of jobs. Anglers also provided an economic stimulant by purchasing gear, licenses and local goods (Caudill). Many people take part in fishing this river either by boat or along the river banks. In this case, the health of the waters and the aquatic life in the water become very important to the local recreationist.