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Carl Alderson is the Mid Atlantic Restoration Coordinator, NOAA Fisheries’ Habitat Conservation, Restoration Center, NE.

Number of years working with NOAA: 

14 years & 9 months

Current location: 

JJ Howard Marine Sciences Laboratory Sandy Hook Highlands, New Jersey.

American shad are lucky to have Carl Alderson as their steadfast champion. For the past decade, Carl has been restoring habitat for these and other migrating fish in the northeastern U.S. Multiple dam removals are helping the shad and its cousins alewife, blueback herring, and American eel return in larger numbers each year. His work includes restoration of the Raritan River, New Jersey’s largest interior watershed and the location of multiple, major hazardous waste sites.

We asked Carl to talk about his work with NOAA Fisheries Restoration Center:

“My goal is to get these fish back into their native waterways. When we remove a dam, we create access to more miles of spawning habitat. But there’s more to it: we also reduce sediment load, change the river bottom, and shift the river's’ speed and flow toward a cooler, stonier environment. Recreating fast moving water over the cobbly bottom increases dissolved oxygen, and that’s so much better for the shad and the organisms they eat. You have to support the types of food that larval and young fish eat—high quality food that helps them grow fast.”

What changes have you seen on the Raritan River?

“We’ve been monitoring Raritan fish runs for at least six seasons, and it’s a thrill to see them return in greater numbers every spring. So far, we’ve taken out three dams and are working to improve a fish ladder that doesn’t move as many fish as it could. This summer we take out the Weston Dam, and we have our eyes on the next few dams upstream. Shad haven’t been seen on some of these tributaries in more than 200 years.”

“A lot of people really care about this river. We work with many partners in this effort, including Rutgers University, who developed the Sustainable Raritan River Initiative to bridge their Public Policy and Environmental Science programs. The Initiative connects us to the University and the greater Raritan community, including state and local government, plus nonprofits like American Rivers and the local riverkeepers. Everybody contributes something. And local anglers, too, are enthusiastic supporters. They post their pictures online, and I’ve seen them showing off striped bass WAY up the river where they haven't been caught in years!” 

Were you ever surprised by fish and/or habitat? 

“I was literally surprised by a harbor seal who fell asleep next to me on a rocky beach in the San Juan Islands,” Carl laughed, remembering a visit to Washington state. “But within my own restoration projects I've been surprised by so many things.”

What person has expanded your understanding or connection to habitat?

“I’d have to say that’s Mike Feller, retired Chief Naturalist of the New York City Department of Parks & Rec. He’s a mentor, colleague and friend going back many years. I’ve been privileged to work with him, and for the City. We did some groundbreaking work on a Staten Island wetlands oil spill that catalyzed naturally occurring petroleum-eating bacteria. Mike forged his insights on the natural world through a ritual of daily observation. He taught me the difference between seeing and understanding.”

For greater understanding of migrating fish, such as the American shad, alewife, blueback herring, and American Eel, we can all be grateful that we have Carl Alderson on the NOAA Restoration team.


Carl Alderson talks about eels at the recent Northeast Fisheries Science Center Open House