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TOWN BROOK HERRING FESTIVAL: Herring and tourists head upstream together 4-29-15

TOWN BROOK HERRING FESTIVAL: Herring and tourists head upstream together

Some drove, some walked, some swam upstream at the second annual Herring Festival on Town Brook.

Wicked Local Plymouth

By Frank Mand
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Posted Apr. 29, 2015 at 10:00 AM
Updated Apr 30, 2015 at 7:18 PM

PLYMOUTH – Some drove, some walked, some swam upstream at the second annual Herring Festival on Town Brook.
They first splashed down at the big tent, provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where they could sign up to count the herring who came single file through a metal pipe and -silhouetted against a wooden plank to make them easier to count – into the calm waters of Jenney Pond.
At first it seemed everyone was wearing a windbreaker emblazoned with the name of a government agency, but that was because at 11 a.m. they held a ceremony about a mile upstream commemorating yet another dam that, with the support of dozens of government agencies and environmental foundations, had been removed from the brook.
Under the NOOA tent you could spin the herring wheel and answer questions about the brook, the herring, and the restoration work that has been going on for more than a decade.
How many dams were there at one time on Town Brook?
Seven, it might be argued, but the official answer is six. Saturday's ceremony commemorated the removal of the Plymco Dam.
How many eggs – they call it roe – will a female river herring lay when it spawns upstream?
At least 60,000, and as many as 200,000.
Just outside the NOAA tent a clipboard allowed visitors to record the number of herring headed upstream, which seemed to average about 10 every 10 minutes, for more than 1,200 a day.
When you finished your count (and checked water temperature) you had a variety of choices, including heading upstream along with the herring. It's an easy 15-minute walk from the Grist Mill to the end of the trail by the new Plymco Bridge.
From the mill you first walk over the wooden bridge on the pond, then over a rotary and into the woods along the brook.
A hundred yards further you reach the Holmes Dam, where the entrance to the fish ladder often has the herring backed up by the thousands.
Here, too, several times over the weekend, Mashpee Wampanoag Darius Coombs, Plimoth Plantation's Director of Eastern Woodlands People Research and Training, could be seen fishing for alewives. It is normally illegal to fish for herring, but Wampanoags have overriding tribal rights to fish and hunt.
Across Newfield Street the trail winds between a small playground (the fish ladder is visible within a thicket nearby) and an electrical substation. When it reaches the top of a small rise, where the fish ladder (submerged for the last 30 yards) empties into another pond-like stretch of the brook, if you carefully make your way to the edge you can usually see small groups of herring entering the calm water.

From here the herring and hikers have an easy time of it. While the trail is not well marked, it's not difficult to follow. It generally follows the brook, and where you might be tempted to stray there are plenty of signs marking private property.
If you walked back to the gristmill area you could watch corn being milled, listen to live acoustic music, see demonstrations of native crafts and a NOAA presentation on herring and eels.
"We were delighted with the Herring Run Festival and thrilled at the number of people that came from near and far to hang out with scientists and a whole lot of herring," Plimoth Grist Mill Program Manager Kim Van Wormer said.
The plan is to grow the festival, in terms of attendance and its scientific and geographic scope, she said. "One vision is to have people follow the path of the herring, walking upstream from the mouth of the brook, stopping at points along the way to visit with scientists and historians to learn about the science and history of the herring run."
Plimoth Plantation's involvement with the grist mill and Town Brook, mirrors the evolution of the Pilgrim's understanding of the importance of the herring and the waters of the brook.
"As we conducted more research, we realized that herring were a very important part of the story. Herring fertilized the corn that was ground at the mill," Van Wormer said. "But the construction of the mill dam blocked access to the herring's spawning grounds in Billington Sea. The really cool thing is that the Colonists realized this and started passing legislation in the 1660s to protect the herring, including building passageways to allow the herring to swim around or over the dam."
And while the Pilgrims appreciated the quality of the brook's water, they didn't quite understand the connection between good water and good health. In their writings, Van Wormer said, the Pilgrims remarked that their children were in remarkably good health in spite of the fact that they had only water to drink.
Follow Frank Mand on Twitter @frankmandOCM.

From Forum

Herring Public Forum Exemption to Wetland Act for herring protection
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KnightofNi > 29-April-2016

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