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State's efforts to aid herring migration sees success 5-18-15

State's efforts to aid herring migration sees success

Newburyport News

Posted: Monday, May 18, 2015 3:20 am |
Staff reports

BYFIELD — In the distant past, so many herring swam up the Parker River in the spring that fishermen could harvest a half million of them, and still more would come.
But like so many species of fish, the days of filling nets over and over again are long gone.
This year, just 2 percent of that number — about 10,000 herring — have headed upriver on their annual run to their spawning grounds.
But that's actually an improvement from where things have been, according to Ben Gahagan, a biologist with the state's Marine Fisheries division. He's been working diligently at helping river herring get a stronger foothold in the river. And with some careful nurturing, a little engineering and some battles with beavers, that number may gradually grow.
"This has been a multiple year project," Gahagan said. "We're trying to get the Parker River back on track."
The Parker is a small river that rises in West Boxford and meanders through several local towns before spilling into Plum Island Sound in Newbury. It was the river that the Colonial settlers found in 1635 and built their homes and mills along. Its historic ties to mankind and industry have been a big part of its herring trouble.
To get upstream to the river's major spawning grounds in Georgetown's Pentucket Pond, Gahagan said river herring have to navigate up six fishways — narrow, steep, fast-running waterways that are meant to allow fish to get around dams.
It's no easy task. In some areas, the current is too strong. Gahagan and others have been working on adjusting the flow of water by observing the progress of the fish.
"I think the ladders are working better this year," he said. "Last year there were 7,200 that made it up the fishway; this year so far it's been 10,000."

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