Fish Ladder Repairs Could Improve Low Herring Counts 7-30-15

Fish Ladder Repairs Could Improve Low Herring Counts
Posted: Thursday, July 30, 2015 10:00 pm
SAM HOUGHTON | 0 comments

Although a finalized list from the Association to Preserve Cape Cod has yet to be released, herring counts from the Johns Pond fish ladder this year are low compared to prior years. The counts have been consistently lower than in runs from surrounding rivers, especially the Mashpee River.
The fish ladder into the pond may be the problem and while the town has submitted requests for improvements to the fish ladder, funds have yet to be granted.
"I'm not quite ready to hit the panic button just yet as there could be any number of reasons for the lower counts this year," conservation agent Andrew McManus said.
Possible reasons leading to a low fish count, besides an inadequate ladder, include natural predation, stream blockage from debris and high winds, and because the current river is not in line with the original river bed, Mr. McManus said. Years ago the river was realigned for cranberry bogs.
The ladder, at the northern tip of the pond, is in the path of persistent winds as well, leading to an increased buildup of sand at the top of the ladder.
Erosion of the banks at the top and bottom of the ladder have been an issue as well.
"When it comes to Johns Pond, one of the issues is that herring do get backed up," Mr. McManus said. "It's a very steep pass at the ladder and it is probably undersized for the numbers that come up the Quashnet [River]."
Last year, 341,458 river herring were counted at the Mashpee River, a number that has improved over the years and is one of the largest runs on the Cape. With the new ladder in Santuit Pond, this year's count has shown improvement there as well.
The last two years of counts at Johns Pond are close to the 40,000 range but the count is expected to be below that this year. Counts will not be finalized until the end of August. The conservation agent also points out that there are only four years of counts to draw from and to compare with this year's low count.
Dale McKay, a member of Mashpee Conservation Commission who lives on the western bank of Johns Pond, has counted herring as part of the town's annual count the last few years. He said that he is surprised at how few herring were counted in this year's run.
He said the run was slow to begin but when it did start, the herring were bigger than normal, which led him to believe it would yield a higher run. But the run never matriculated to what he expected.
He said that during counts, herring, close to a hundred at a time, are backed up in a pool at the base of the ladder as they attempt to cross into the pond to spawn.
He is hopeful that grant funds could come through to improve their passage.
"The environment is so important to Mashpee," he said. "It is the base of our economy."
Mr. McKay said that Johns Pond is one of the most fished freshwater ponds for largemouth bass on the Cape. Fishermen can wade out in the water to fish and the pond is the site of annual fishing derby.
While he admits it is anecdotal, he said that he has noticed fewer fish in the pond this year.
Mr. McManus said that the Johns Pond fish ladder has been listed as a priority project for restoration in the next round of funding for the Cape Cod Water Resources Restoration Grant funding, a grant issued through the US Department of Agriculture.
Funds from the grant go toward the improvement of migratory fish passage, salt marsh restoration, and improved shellfish habitats that have been impacted by stormwater runoff. The fish ladder and dam restoration at Santuit Pond was the most recently funded project from this grant as well as stormwater runoff improvements at the end of Mashpee Neck Road, Mr. McManus said.
Funds for improvements have also been sought out at the state level through the Massachusetts Environmental Trust and Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management. "We've tried different funding sources, but have been out-competed for other projects," he said, including to the preservation of Popponesset Spit. "But," he said, replacement of the ladder "is still a candidate for funding."

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