Fish mystery: Tri-town herring population is dropping 3-2-14

SouthCoast Today
March 02, 2014 6:50 AM

Fish mystery: Tri-town herring population is dropping

MATTAPOISETT — After seeing a small but steady increase in river herring populations in the Tri-town area the last few years, herring inspectors say there is a decline this year.

The trio of inspectors representing Mattapoisett, Rochester, and Marion, came together last week and met with town selectmen for their annual Tri-town Herring Meeting.

The inspectors told selectmen that the river herring population is down 8,000 from an estimated 28,000 reported last year.

Mattapoisett Herring Inspector Bob Martin estimated that in 2000 there was a population of close to 150,000 herring.

Since peaking in 2000, the herring population in the Mattapoisett River has been in a steady decline, bottoming out in 2007. Herring populations since then have seen a small, but steady increase in the river until this year, the inspectors said.

However, there was some good news from Rochester Herring Inspector David Watling who reported he had seen some fish in the Sippican River for the first time this year.

Board Chairman Tyler Macallister suggested to the inspectors the herring decline in the river could be linked to the offshore sea herring fishery off Block Island being shut down during herring spawning time.

Macallister also asked the inspectors if there were any problems with the equipment being used to estimate the population of herring traveling upriver. They said there were not.

While the inspectors said the condition of the river's water has largely been good, they said it is possible that intermittent muddy water could be a factor in the decline.

Watling said they haven't been able to determine what is causing the muddying.

Marion resident Brett Vogelcamp — who identified himself as a conservationist, ecologist, and fisherman — asked if any of the three towns has done any water quality testing "to assure themselves that the streams themselves are healthy and there is nothing ... that would impede the productivity of the fish to spawn."

Water temperature and run-off water from homes are variables Vogelcamp said could affect herring populations.

The Mattapoisett River is a run-off river fed from the Snipatuit Pond Basin. Macallister said it is tested often and has proven to be very healthy.

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