Help for the herring 1-17-14

Help for the Herring

Barnstable Patriot

Written by Susan Vaughn 

January 17, 2014

Volunteers get the Marstons Mills herring run ready for spawning season

State regulations prohibit "harvesting and possession" of river herring, but that doesn't mean Cape Codders don't care about the 100,000 or so that find their way each year from the Cape's ocean waters to the fresh water ponds to spawn.

About a dozen men and women dressed in waterproof boots and cold weather gear appeared on a damp Tuesday morning at the entrance to the Marstons Mills herring run off Flume Road. They were answering the call for volunteers to clean out and repair the 1,000-foot run in preparation for the annual herring spawning season that begins around the end of March or early April when the water reaches more than 50 degrees.
The Barnstable Land Trust put out the call to help the town Department of Natural Resources get the run ready for the herring. The plywood sides of the run that connects Marstons Mills River and Middle Pond, where the herring spawn, need total replacement in some places and shoring up and bracing in others.

Natural Resources staff had completed the work on about 50 feet of the run, working on it whenever time and weather allow, department supervisor Doug Kalweit said, but the land trust helped by publicizing the need for volunteers on four dates: Jan. 14 and 16 and Jan. 28 and 30, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day.
The publicity worked. A public service announcement on the radio brought first-time volunteer Bob Neudorfer, who came from Harwich clad in his full waders, admitting he might be "a little overdressed." He said he was recently laid off from work, so had the time to offer.

Kirsten Friedrich, who also turned out Jan. 14, was a repeat volunteer who started coming to help with the run as a result of hearing stories from the late Ed Schwarm about his effort to secure funding to upgrade the herring run. "It was kind of inspiring. He was a great guy," she said.
Natural Resources Officer Martin Wunderly was coordinating the volunteers' work on Tuesday, taking over for Officer Amy Croteau, who was ill. As the volunteers gathered, Wunderly told them about the various tasks they could take on.
"You can grab a pitchfork and clean out the leaves and debris, which doesn't take long, or you can take the two-by-fours and plywood" to shore up the sides of the run, he said.

All the equipment and materials were ready for the workers, who didn't waste any time digging into the muck at the bottom of the run with pitchforks. Newcomer Neudorfer was the first to lay himself on the ground and lean into the run headfirst to pull out debris and, at one spot, a big rock.

Others headed to the far end with their hammers to gather up the big sheets of plywood and two-by-fours that Kalweit was cutting to replace the sections where the old wood had deteriorated, and in some places, disappeared, exposing raw earth and tree roots. Kalweit said the run had been there since the 1960s.
Wunderly explained the importance of the herring run repair work. The two herring species that use the run are the Alewife and Blueback, which are an important source of food for various birds such as sea gulls and osprey as well as larger fish, especially the striped bass.

"The more prey available, the more bass," Wunderly said. The bass will follow the herring part of the way into the fresh water until it gets too narrow. The herring spawn in fresh water ponds all over the state, but Wunderly said the population on the Cape is lower than the rest of the state and nation.
The adult herring stay at the spawning pond until June, he said, but the young don't leave until they are one or two inches long, around the beginning of fall. The number of herring on the Barnstable runs has increased the past two years to more than 100,000, Wunderly said.

However, even with each fish spawning up to 20,000 eggs at a time, the young herrings' chances of surviving and getting back to the ocean are slim, estimated between 10 and 68 percent of those that begin their journey, according to the Marine Recreational Fisheries of Massachusetts. The Marstons Mills herring travel out to Prince Cove and into Nantucket Sound, Kalweit said. If they make it, three years later the herring return again to spawn in Middle Pond, their birthplace.

Bob Parsons, one of Tuesday's volunteers, is also a counter at the annual run in Marstons Mills. He explained how the counting of so many fish is done.

A white board is placed on the fish ladder to make it easier to see the fish, and as the fish go over it, the counters count for 10 minutes every hour. Those numbers are plugged into a mathematical formula to come up with the final numbers, he said. "In 10 minutes, we might get close to 200."
The Marstons Mills run is one of four in town, Kalweit said. The others are at Wequaquet Lake, in Santuit and West Barnstable.

"This run has always had a lot of support and the most active volunteers," he said.
Alex Frazee, president of Indian Ponds Association, agreed. "It's a team effort from a lot of organizations," she said. "There are so many people who care."

Even as the rain started up about an hour into the work Tuesday, the hardy group of volunteers kept on hammering and completed a lot of work on their first day.
After this week, herring run volunteers can sign again to help on Jan. 28 and 30 by e-mailing Croteau at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or calling the Natural Resources office at 508-790-6272.

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