At more than 9,000 square miles, the Cape Fear River basin is one of the largest watersheds in North Carolina, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean northwest past Greensboro. The Cape Fear River once supported thriving migratory fish populations, including American shad, shortnose sturgeon, Atlantic sturgeon, blueback herring, American eel and striped bass, which had immense ecological, economic, and recreational benefits for the local community.
Cape Fear River Watershed MapMap Credit: NOAA
Declining Fish Populations
More than 1,100 dams and blockages prevent migratory fish from moving upstream in the Cape Fear River to spawn. In addition, poor habitat and water quality have played a role in declining fish populations in the basin. Commercial landings have declined to 87% lower than historic estimates.
Sediment loads and erosion leads to poor fish habitatPhoto Credit: North Carolina, Division of Water Resources (DWR)
Creating a Partnership
Planning and construction of a rock arch ramp on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lock and Dam #1 near Riegelwood brought partners in the basin together working toward a common goal of providing fish more access to historic habitats in the main stem of the Cape Fear River. These partners recognized a need for a broader coordinated watershed-wide effort to rebuild fisheries and the habitat on which they depend. NOAA helped form the Cape Fear River Partnership in 2011.
The partnership is made up of federal, state, local, academic, utility, businesses, and non-profit partners working toward restoring and demonstrating the value of robust, productive, and self-sustaining stocks of migratory fish in the Cape Fear River. Their vision: a healthy Cape Fear River for fish and people.
Cape Fear River Watch StriperFestPhoto Credit: NOAA
Habitat enhancement downstream of Lock and Dam #2Photo Credit: Dial Cordy and Associates
Angler with striped bassPhoto Credit: North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
Developing a Plan: An Action Plan for Migratory Fish
The Partnership created an action plan in 2013 organized around three goals:
- to restore access to historic migratory fish habitat;
- to improve habitat conditions for migratory fish within the Cape Fear River Basin; and
- to engage new stakeholders and increase interest in improving fish passage and habitat conditions for migratory fish through communication of socio-economic values associated with such improvement.
Rock Arch Ramp at Lock and Dam #1Photo Credit: US Army Corps of Engineers
Future Work: Cape Fear River Partnership into the future
The Cape Fear River Partnership has resulted in comprehensive watershed-scale solutions and widespread support for restoring migratory fish in the Cape Fear River. While working at a large scale with multiple stakeholders and projects adds complexity to river conservation efforts, working at a watershed scale also increases the opportunities to collaborate and share expertise on specific projects and to leverage funding for project planning and implementation. The Partnership is led by state, federal, non-profit and for profit groups working directly in the Cape Fear River watershed. The local leadership distributed the Partnership’s first annual progress report on the action plan. The Partnership, including NOAA, is looking ahead to accomplishing the actions outlined in the action plan and determining additional actions to meet the three goals of the action plan.
Kayaking on the Cape Fear RiverPhoto Credit: American Rivers