Living Rivers: Live with a Conservation Ethic

This month we welcome Dr. Boyd Kynard, one the world’s most respected fish behaviorists, who has an urgent message for the people of Connecticut River watershed:

“If I can get anything over to you that is of value, it’s to have a conservation ethic. We must live with a conservation ethic. If we don’t, we have no chance at all for survival. None. Not for (the fish) and not for us.” 

Kurt Heidinger, Director of Biocitizen, asked me to write a short article on why (and how) I came to focus on conservation of rivers and their fishes. The answer to this question is deeply entwined with my early life experience, my development as a scientist, and my quest to contribute significantly to fish and river conservation.

My experience with rivers began during my boyhood in the 1940s when at age 8-11, my dad and I set trotlines in north Mississippi rivers to catch channel catfish for the family to eat and trade. In high school and college, I camped, fished, and trapped furbearers (to pay for college) on the Pearl River near Jackson, MS. Thus, during my early life, rivers and their resources provided me with recreation, food, and income. I loved being on a river. Rivers and I seemed a natural match.

During my college education (BS to Ph.D.), I became a fish behavioral ecologist. After spending 6 years as Asst. Professor of Fisheries at the Univ. of Arizona, where I studied desert fish in Arizona and Mexico, I became the Asst. Leader of the Massachusetts Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit (US Fish & Wildlife Service) at UMass, Amherst. The Connecticut River was a perfect moderate-size river where I could explore scientific relationships between migratory fish behavior, damming, and river habitats. The multi-state program to restore anadromous fish to the Connecticut River needed a river research laboratory to study fish passage and to supplement field information. Thus, in 1979 I proposed this idea to U.S. Representative S. O. Conte from Pittsfield, who supported federal funds to the US Fish and Wildlife Service for the laboratory.

In 1991, I transferred to the new S. O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center (CAFRC). Thus, for 30 years at UMASS and CAFRC, my graduate students, federal staff, and I conducted research studies in the Connecticut River on the behavior of migratory fish (spawning, migration, habitat selection, etc.), the effects of damming on migratory fish, and development of fish passage. Our research contributed to conservation and fish passage of Atlantic salmon, American shad, river herring, striped bass, sea lamprey, and the endangered shortnose sturgeon, and particularly to relicensing of Holyoke and Turners Falls Dams to conserve shortnose sturgeon. Supporting my river research, I brought a lifetime of experience on rivers and a conservation ethic to gather information for fishery managers, so they make the correct decisions on river fish and river conservation.

During our successful studies on the behavior of Connecticut River migratory fish, especially the federally endangered shortnose sturgeon, I was invited to start related river research on sturgeons in the Yangtze and Danube Rivers, and on migratory fishes in several Brazilian rivers. These studies led to new conservation actions, allowed me to experience the wonder of large undammed rivers in Brazil, and gave me experience working in the trenches with different cultures. In summary, my quest to study the behavior of migratory fish in large rivers has been long, broad, and deep in both biological and personal aspects: the quest of a lifetime.

– Dr. Boyd Kynard


Kurt Heidinger, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Biocitizen, non-profit school of field environmental philosophy, based in the Western MA Hilltown of Westhampton, MA where he lives with his family.  Biocitizen gives participants an opportunity to “think outside” and cultivate a joyous and empowering biocultural awareness of where we live and who we are. Check out Kurt’s monthly column, The Ripple, here on Hilltown Families on the 3rd week of every month to hear stories about rivers from river lovers from around the world. Make the world of rivers bigger than the world of pavement inside of you!



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