Banner01
Print

You know spring's sprung when herring run 3-30-15

You know spring's sprung when herring run
Wicked Local Provincetown

By Rich Eldred
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Posted Mar. 30, 2015 at 6:25 AM

WELLFLEET -- The herring won't be running up Cape Cod's rivers until the water warms to close to 50 degrees, but the Cape herring counters are already warming up.
This is the seventh year volunteers have been counting the two species of river herring, alewives and bluebacks in Wellfleet's Herring River and they held a meeting last Thursday at Wellfleet Public Library.
Both species, which are almost identical, are anadromous fish that are born is fresh water, spend their lives at sea, and return to freshwater to spawn. They're also iteroparus, i.e., repeat spawners, as opposed to salmon which die after spawning, and philoparous, meaning the return to the same rivers biologist Barbara Brennessel told the 20 volunteers. They mature after three or four years and may live from seven to 10 years.
"These fish (arriving in Wellfleet) are probably in their third year," Brennessel said. "They don't eat anything on their journey. They're basically running on empty. When the forsythia's are in bloom we have alewives. The bluebacks are later when the lilacs bloom."
Of course the fish aren't paying attention to flowers, not even the shadbush that signals the arrival of shad in the rivers where shad arrive.
Native Americans used herring as fertilizer- - three fish for every five seeds of corn. More recently herring were netted for lobster bait as they swam upstream.
"They're very important forage fish," Brennessel said. "Some speculate the decline on cod is due to the decline in herring. River herring were an easy fishery. You didn't need a boat. You didn't need a pole."
"In the 18th and 19th centuries there was an annual auction of herring rights (in Wellfleet)," retired ecologist John Portnoy explained. "For a couple of years in the 1890's they recorded the number of fish and there were over 250,000 in the harbor. Last year (2014) was a banner year and the estimate was 60,000."
The harvest in Massachusetts reached a peak of 33,000,000 pounds in 1958, by the 1980s those landings were closer to 100,000 pounds and takes were limited to 25 fish a day. In 2006 a statewide moratorium, still in effect, was imposed.
Over harvesting at sea, dams and culverts, degraded habitat, bycatch in the atlantic Herring fishery and faming techniques all contributed to the collapse. Meanwhile predators such as striped bass, cormorants and seals received protection.
The plan by the state is to open the dike at the mouth of the Herring river to restore the marshlands behind it, where young herring osmoregulate prior to transitioning from fresh water to the sea.
"We are gathering pre-restoration data so we'll get an idea how river herring benefit," Brennessel explained. "Also the Division of Fish and Wildlife is interested in opening up the harvest again."

Statewide, the Division of Marine Fisheries collects data on 28 herring runs. Locally, since 2007, Jo Ann Muramoto of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod has worked with or monitored 17 different herring counting groups. Last year the biggest runs last year were on the Mashpee river (341,458), Stony Brook in Brewster (271,363) and the Herring River in Harwich (247,894). Other runs she keeps track of include Pilgrim Lake (Orleans), Sandwich, the Quashnet and Santuit rivers in Mashpee, Bound Brook in Dennis, Herring Brook in Eastham and Tom Mathews Pond in Yarmouth.
"There are maybe 40 active runs," Muramoto reflected. "(Counting) is important for assessing the health and size of the populations. In 2011 the National Resource Defense Counsel petitioned to list alewives and bluebacks as endangered species. USFWS decided not to list them but acknowledged numbers were low. We also want o see how well fisheries restoration projects that allow more fish to pass through are doing. Most counts are in runs that are restored or are going to be."
The Stony Book run had just 22,348 fish in 2007. The culvert was enlarged in 2010 and last year's tally was 271,353.
"It's pretty clear a lot more herring are going through," she said. "Some runs saw some major gains over previous years. In general 2014 was a good year. But the general consensus is the herring population has not really recovered to where we can consider opening any of the Cape runs."
The estimate the Herring River in Wellfleet last year was 62,000 fish, up from 25,000 in 2013 and 12,000 in 2012. Prior to that the largest run was 17,000 in 2009. That's significant since the tidegate at the dike, built in 1909, was opened a bit more in 2010. Better flushing is increasing numbers there as well.
"The dike damaged water quality up stream and downstream," noted Portnoy. "It changed the salinity and increased oxygen depletion in the summertime, which kills fish. And now there is very little flushing."
The first sightings have generally been during the first week in April when the water temperature approaches 50 degrees. The runs usually end in late May.
The count will commence April 1, and continue to May 31. Volunteers choose a block of time between 7 and 11 a.m., 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. and 7 p.m. and count the herring passing by for ten minutes. They also record water and air temperatures and other items.
The volunteers work itself is another reason to do the counts.
"It gets people outside and helps build a sense of stewardship for the run and water quality," Muramoto concluded.

From Forum

Herring Public Forum Exemption to Wetland Act for herring protection
DaveC > 25-July-2016

Herring Run Counts 2015 Herring Counts
DaveC > 25-July-2016

Herring Management Town Brook alewives get a free ride to Billington Sea
KnightofNi > 29-April-2016

Herring Public Forum River Herring Migration Series at WHOI
KnightofNi > 30-April-2015

Eels Fines Increased for Herring Poaching
Jones River > 15-April-2015

river herring blog

rss

2017 Annual Meeting Summary

Thank you to all who made the 2017 River Herring Network annual meeting a success!

Seventy three...

Agenda for 2017 Annual Meeting - November 2

Click to download a pdf of the agenda:2017 RHN Annual Meeting -Revised Agenda

The 7th Annual...

NMFS initiates status review of bluebacks and alewife

Several news stories and radio programs announced yesterday and today that the National Marine...

Two MA dam removal projects are awarded funding from NOAA

Two projects in Massachusetts have been awarded 2017 Community-based Restoration Program Coastal...

Save the Date - November 2, 2017 Annual Meeting

Save the Date!  

The River Herring Network 2017 annual meeting will take place on Thursday,...

More Blog Posts