Herring Return To Mashpee Rivers 4-28-16

Herring Return To Mashpee Rivers

Mashpee Enterprise
By LANNAN M. O'BRIEN Apr 28, 2016

Each year around April and early May, herring that were born in the Mashpee River return to their freshwater home to spawn. The homecoming is celebrated by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe as a symbol of the New Year and by many others as the beginning of spring.

Flowing from the adjoining Mashpee and Wakeby ponds to Pirate's Cove on Popponesset Bay, the roughly five mile-long river is home to one of the largest herring runs on Cape Cod. An annual count typically estimates that the run has over 200,000 herring, and in 2014, that estimate jumped to over 340,000.

In the context of herring populations today, Mashpee herring warden Andrew R. McManus said that the number is high. Historically, though, herring populations were much larger, declining in recent years due to overfishing, pollution and barriers to migration.

"The populations are still rebounding," he said, adding that moratorium on the catching of herring has partially contributed to population growth.

Given the cool spring so far, the herring have not yet been much in evidence. But Mr. McManus said earlier this week that a string of 50-degree-plus days likely will encourage the fish to start moving up the river.

In many areas, Mr. McManus said that developments such as cranberry bogs and dams historically obstructed herring migration and impacted populations. But much of the land surrounding the Mashpee River—from the Mashpee and Wakeby ponds to where those waters empty into Popponesset Bay—has been protected as conservation land and open space, which has helped the recovery of the herring population using the river.

The Mashpee River Reservation is part of a "green belt corridor" that links open space from Mashpee Pond to South Cape Beach State Park, the shores of Nantucket Sound and the national wildlife refuge, writes Rosemary Burns Love in Mashpee in Words and Pictures.

"An overwhelmingly positive vote of the December 1985 Special Town Meeting approved the additional money needed for the purchase of the riverfront property known as the Mashpee River Woodlands," Ms. Love writes. "In two smaller appropriations, one in 1986 and the other in 1987, additional acreage on the west side of the river was purchased. The Mashpee River Woodlands now totals 391 acres."

F. Thomas Fudala, town planner, who worked to obtain an additional $2 million Self Help grant for the conservation of river property from the state—the single largest Self Help grant in state history—is quoted in the book as saying, "Preserving the entire Mashpee River Corridor represented a rather unique situation on Cape Cod. Rarely is an entire river system from source to river course to estuarine outlet protected from development."

The river and its herring play a special role in the Mashpee community, particularly for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.

Kitty Hendricks, a member of the tribe, serves as the cultural program developer at the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum next to the herring run in the river. Following an event called Honoring Our Herring last Wednesday, April 20, which celebrated the return of the river herring, she said in a phone interview, "I always remember going to the herring run [as a child]. It's just a part of spring for me... it's part of the traditions that we have."

There was a time when herring was a primary food source for the tribe, Ms. Hendricks said. Many years ago, there were no grocery stores with frozen food aisles. Instead, the Wampanoags caught herring and preserved it in salt.

Before the harvesting of herring became a business, smoked herring was a meal commonly enjoyed by tribe members.

"The old-timers all had smoke houses," Ms. Hendricks said. "[Herring] was very much just what you could get at the time."

Mashpee is lucky to have not one, but three, herring runs in town, she said. The other runs are in the Santuit and Quashnet rivers.

Ms. Hendricks described the fish as a part of the local community and the tribe. Tribe members, due to their aboriginal rights, still are allowed to harvest herring. But a state-imposed moratorium bars most harvesting of herring in Massachusetts, a measure intended to help the species rebound.

She also emphasized the importance of celebrating the return of the herring as a tribal tradition.

"This time of year... it's very social and the kids are all used to it. In Mashpee, it's a part of life," Ms. Hendricks said.

From 10 AM to 2 PM tomorrow, Ms. Hendricks will join scientists and naturalists from the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, Mass Audubon's Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary and the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension at the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum on Route 130 to talk to the public about the scientific and cultural importance of herring. A herring run in the Mashpee River is nearby.

The event is the first of its kind to be planned through the collaboration, said Joshua K. Wrigley, the public and group programs coordinator for Mass Audubon's Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary. It came about through a mutual recognition of herring as a "keystone species"—one that has a disproportionately large effect on its ecosystem—that has cultural significance to the tribe, he said.

Mr. Wrigley said that there will be an underwater camera there displaying a live feed of the river "from a herring's eye view." There will also be herring-related crafts and attendees can learn about volunteering as a herring counter.

"I hope that the program puts herring in people's minds to the extent that if they drive by a herring run, they're more conscious of the various species that use Cape Cod's waterways," he said.

From Forum

Herring Public Forum Exemption to Wetland Act for herring protection
DaveC > 25-July-2016

Herring Run Counts 2015 Herring Counts
DaveC > 25-July-2016

Herring Management Town Brook alewives get a free ride to Billington Sea
KnightofNi > 29-April-2016

Herring Public Forum River Herring Migration Series at WHOI
KnightofNi > 30-April-2015

Eels Fines Increased for Herring Poaching
Jones River > 15-April-2015

river herring blog


2017 Annual Meeting Summary

Thank you to all who made the 2017 River Herring Network annual meeting a success!

Seventy three...

Agenda for 2017 Annual Meeting - November 2

Click to download a pdf of the agenda:2017 RHN Annual Meeting -Revised Agenda

The 7th Annual...

NMFS initiates status review of bluebacks and alewife

Several news stories and radio programs announced yesterday and today that the National Marine...

Two MA dam removal projects are awarded funding from NOAA

Two projects in Massachusetts have been awarded 2017 Community-based Restoration Program Coastal...

Save the Date - November 2, 2017 Annual Meeting

Save the Date!  

The River Herring Network 2017 annual meeting will take place on Thursday,...

More Blog Posts