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Fairfax County relocates fish, eels affected by government center pond dredging

Work is underway to restore the waterways around the Fairfax County Government Center.

To support the Difficult Run stream restoration project, which began in October, the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) worked with a consultant to relocate over 200 fish and eels to the pond outside the Herrity Building (12055 Government Center Parkway).

In an approach that DPWES says is “unprecedented” for the county, the aquatic creatures were corralled using an electro-fishing boat provided by the consultant, Prince William County-based Solitude Lake Management.

A total of three eels, 49 bluegill and 145 golden shiners were moved on Dec. 5, making way for dredgings of the government center’s two amenity ponds.

“The American eel is actually an endangered species, so it’s especially good that we got them out,” Caleb Yankee, a fisheries biologist for Solitude Lake Management, said in a brief video shared by DPWES to showcase the relocation process.

According to Jonathan Witt, an ecologist in the department’s stormwater management division, electro-fishing involves electrifying the water “in the immediate vicinity” of the boat, stunning the fish and bringing them to the surface so they can be picked up in nets.

They were then put in a storage tank and transported to their new home less than a mile away.

DPWES emphasized that electro-shocking is a “sophisticated and humane technique that allows for efficient, safe fish relocation.” The county has utilized electro-shocking before, but on a smaller scale, using handheld devices instead of a full boat.

“The successful transfer of these aquatic residents to Herrity Pond signifies not only the protection of these species during the restoration project, but also the enrichment of the pond’s biodiversity,” DPWES said. “The fish have been carefully introduced into their revitalized habitat, marking a significant step towards ecological balance.”

In addition to dredging the ponds, the Difficult Run Tributary and Basins project entails restoring about 1,600 linear feet of stream, which will reduce soil erosion, shore up natural habitats on land and in the water and improve water quality, according to DPWES.

The northwestern portion of a trail on the government center campus recently reopened with the completion of the project’s first phase. Additional trail closures for the second and third phases are expected to start next week, according to DPWES spokesperson Sharon North.

“With the updated schedule, it could last [until] about May 2024,” North told FFXnow.

That would push back the end date for the fourth phase — which focuses on the streams and ponds along the property’s southeastern border — from September to November or December 2024.

After the project, the amenity ponds will be restocked with new native fish, DPWES says.

“Fairfax County residents are encouraged to participate in the final phase of the project, where they can witness the restocking of the amenity ponds,” the department said. “This event will offer a unique opportunity to observe the tangible impacts of such environmental initiatives.”

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