New Electronic Tagging Program Debuts At Coonamessett River Herring Run 4-26-15

New Electronic Tagging Program Debuts At Coonamessett River Herring Run
April 26, 2015

FALMOUTH – The Coonamessett River Trust is upgrading their 10-year old herring counting program this year with an electronic tagging program, as well as an adopt-a-herring fundraiser.
Marine Biological Laboratory scientist Linda Deegan has lent the trust equipment for the tagging program and is conducting research on the findings.
The purpose of the tagging is to find out more details about the fish, whether they are male or female and what species they are, whether blueback or alewives. The tags will also show the route of the herring and how long they stay in the Coonamessett River system.
Lou Turner, who has led the volunteer herring counting team on the Coonamessett River and also the Trunk River for years, said of the tagging, "We can tell when they first entered the Coonamessett system. We can gain information on how they deal with this obstacle, the culvert between two bogs."
As for distinguishing the two species of herring, Turner said, "The difference between the two is slight but bluebacks spawn in rivers and alewives spawn in ponds."
Earlier this winter, members of the Coonamessett River Trust scouted the river for sites for tagging stations.
HerringThe tags, called passive instrument transponders, or PITs, are about the size of a grain of rice.
The process for attaching a tag, according to Turner, is first to net a herring, grab the fish, make a slice in the side and install the tag. If the fish has survived the tagging, it is placed back in the water.
There are 400 electronic tags and in the past week, and, as of yesterday, 100 herring have already been tagged.
According to information from the Coonamessett River Trust, when the released fish swims though the wire loop of an antenna, the tag is energized and sends a signal with the embedded tag number to a data logger which records the fish tag number, the date and time.
In this way, each individual fish's movement can be tracked.
The tagging is part of a state and regional effort to monitor the behavior of the herring and hopefully answer questions such as what percentage of fish spawn in the Flax Pond versus Coonamessett Pond versus the river itself, Turner said.
"It will also help us understand how long they stay in the system, for example, do they leave right after spawning or hang around awhile?," according to the trust.
On April 16, counting volunteers began to see herring on the Coonamessett run. Between 8 and 10 p.m., 34 herring were seen. The next morning, a counter saw 13 more.
On April 18, one of the volunteers, Charlie Cooper, reported seeing a very large—at least 24-inch—eel headed down river and then he saw an even larger animal. "At the Flax Brook footbridge just below the culvert, there were several herring holding and drifting as if spent in the culvert plunge pool. Upon great commotion in the culvert a huge river otter popped out and grabbed the largest herring before continuing down to the river," Cooper wrote in his log.
The tagging began on April 20 with 13 fish tagged. Two days later, another 67 fish were tagged. By that time, counters were recording one to two fish per minute heading up the river, with fish staying in deeper holes in the river during the day and mostly running at night.
There are four counting stations along the river and Turner said the time the fish take to get to each station indicates the problems the fish have had working their way up the run. Among the closely watched data is the time it takes the fish to pass through a culvert, "which is a very difficult obstacle for them in their migration," Turner said.
Through the tag data, the Coonamessett River Trust offered this data on the journey of one fish, known as Fish 504, a male alewife, 25 centimeters long.
The fish was tagged on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. and spent three hours holding in the tagging pool, then moved upstream to the Lower Bog antennae, which is 50 meters upstream, and stayed in the vicinity of the Lower Bog antennae for about eight hours, from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m. Monday night.
Fish 504 made it to Middle Dike, which is 200 meters upstream, at 2:30 a.m.
He spent about an hour and a half in the pool below Middle Dike, approached the culvert six times before blasting through the culvert in one minute, then hung out in the pool above the culvert for a few minutes.
A message on the Coonamessett River Trust's Facebook page stated, "He hasn't been seen since April 20. Hope a gull didn't get him!"
Turner said, the big expense to the tagging are the four monitoring stations, which cost about $3,000 each.
The Falmouth Rod and Gun Club has donated $1,000 to the project.
People who would like to contribute to the research cost by adopting a herring—with one tag costing $10 and three for $25—can contact Charles Cooper at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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