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HARVESTING MORATORIUM: Herring count is up, but its still an upstream battle for region's beleaguered alewives 4-13-15

Wicked Local Mattapoisett

HARVESTING MORATORIUM: Herring count is up, but its still an upstream battle for region's beleaguered alewives

By Chris Reagle
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Posted Apr. 13, 2015 at 10:00 AM

TRI-TOWNS – Tri-town herring populations seem to be slowly recovering but Mattapoisett selectmen opted to keep the state-imposed moratorium on harvesting the small silvery food and baitfish in effect for at least another year.
Herring inspectors from Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester met with Mattapoisett Selectmen at the board's March 26 meeting to update the board on the state of herring populations in local waterways, including the Mattapoisett River and its tributaries, that lead to historic herring spawning ponds, which include Snipatuit Pond in Rochester.
River herring migrate from saltwater, where they live most of the year, to fresh water each spring to spawn. Biologists say the plankton-eating anadromous fish are an indicator to environmental health. Their dwindling numbers over the past two decades have been of great concern to sport and commercial fisherman and others concerned with the ecological health of local waterways and ponds.
"We had a good year last year," Mattapoisett Herring Inspector Robert Smith said. "We had 55,000 (herring go through the herring counter)."
"That's up from 28,000 (from the 2013 count)," Rochester Herring Inspector Dave Watling added.
"Last year it was down from the previous year," Mattapoisett Selectman Chairman Paul Silva noted.
"Yes, it was 26,000," Watling recalled.
"Things are looking up," Smith added optimistically.
Smith noted that the herring are counted at Snipatuit Pond in Rochester, the biggest spawning pond between the communities of Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester. He said logistics at the fish counter on River Road in Mattapoisett has made it difficult to count herring at that location.
"The (state) moratorium (on harvesting herring) is still in effect," Smith said.
"I thought that was left to the discretion of the towns now according to (Massachusetts Department of) Marine Fisheries," Mattapoisett Selectman Tyler Macallister, a recreational fishing boat captain, said.
Macallister said he heard towns considering lifting the moratorium could make their own decisions based on their own herring recruitment levels.
"I didn't hear that," Watling replied. "I was lead to believe that if they (Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries) didn't come up with a management plan the moratorium would stay in effect."
"I'm pretty sure I read that," Macallister said of his statement that the decision was at the discretion of individual towns. "I'm almost positive I read that."
Macallister asked the three herring inspectors, which included Marion Herring Inspector Jim Gurney, what the traditional high count for herring recorded in local waterways. Watling, who, like his father before him, has been a herring inspector for more than 20 years, replied that figure at 130,000. The other two herring inspectors nodded in agreement.

"We're almost halfway there," Mattapoisett Selectman Jordan Collyer said.
"Almost," Watling relied.
"The cormorants (which feast on river herring) are not here yet and the water's still cold so the herring aren't here yet,' Macallister said.
"We generally put the counter in the second week in March," Watling said at the Mattapoisett Selectmen's meeting. "There's still six to eight inches of ice on Snipatuit Pond so I don't see it going in this weekend (March 28-29) either."
"In Middleborough, they have (herring) scouts, but I don't think they've seen anything yet," Macallister said.
"So the moratorium stays in effect and that's it," Collyer said.
"Until we get more herring," Macallister added.
"What would you consider a real good run?" Silva asked toward the end of meeting.
"I would think, personally, 100,000, but I'd like to see what we get this year and compare it to (2014)," Watling said.
"I'd like to see (the count) at least one more year," the Mattapoisett herring inspector added, who seemed to pine for the old days when herring could be scooped by bucket as they swam upstream.
"I feel sorry for the old people. The old people like the (herring) roe," Smith said. "As far as the lobster guys, they'll get bait anywhere, but the old people used to come down their with their little containers (to collect the roe).
"And young people, too," Silva said with a smile on his face.
"Mostly old people," Smith, a long-time herring inspector, replied.
Macallister noted that conservation efforts are paying off.
"They stopped fishing the sea herring off Block Island about three years ago, so that's also going to help" Macallister said.
Macallister noted they did the same off the waters of Gloucester on the North Shore about five years ago. Macallister, who has close contact with the region's fishing community, said some communities have already seen positive results as a result of the moratorium on harvesting sea herring.
"I was talking to an older gentleman from there who said they've recovered in the Merrimac River to the point where he remembers as a child," Macallister said. "This was last year, so I was very much encouraged by that."

From Forum

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