Herring return to Winchester's water bodies 5-12-16

Herring return to Winchester's water bodies

Wicked Local Winchester

By Bram Berkowitz
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Posted May 12, 2016 at 2:01 AM
Updated May 12, 2016 at 1:44 PM

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They typically travel in tight-knit packs, sometimes by the thousands. They are silver and scaly. Last year, they traveled to historic spawning grounds in Winchester for the first time since the Civil War.
In the next few weeks, when walking through any one of the countless bridges overlooking the Aberjona River, be sure to keep your eyes peeled, because the herring have returned.
Coming off an exciting run last year, during which the Mystic River Watershed Association estimates nearly 500,000 blueback and Alewife herring migrated into Winchester's tributaries, the fish were recently spotted in the Mill Pond by Scoopalooza Creamery and Century Bank.
"The fish are earlier this year," said resident John Kilborn, who said the herring started showing up a few days before May. "Our hope is that this year's run at least matches the run of last year."
Not only did last year's herring run nearly double the number that came through Winchester in 2014, but they also made it further upstream than anytime in recent memory.
The herring, which are foundation fish -- meaning they are preyed on by larger predators for food -- started from the Atlantic Ocean and traveled to fresh water bodies in Winchester to spawn. Last year, they made it from the lower part of the Mystic River through the Mystic River Dam into the upper part of the Mystic River, up the Aberjona River and over the Center Falls Dam into Wedge Pond, Horn Pond Brook and as far as the base of Horn Pond in Woburn.
According to Brad Chase, senior biologist in the state Division of Marine Fisheries, the herring in Winchester are one of several runs that have begun to make a comeback in Massachusetts in the last five years.
In 2006, after widespread concerns about a decrease in the herring population, Chase said a statewide ban on the harvesting of herring was instituted. But the increase in herring in Winchester could more likely be attributed to the reconstruction of the Mystic River dam in 2011 and the addition of a fish ladder, which allowed the herring to access local waters in Winchester, he said.
Kilborn believes the construction of a fish ladder at the Center Falls Dam, which leads into Mill Pond in the center of town, is crucial for supporting the herring run.
Last year, the herring were able to make it to Horn Pond because the town opened the floodgates at the Center Falls Dam to assist with construction of the Jenks Senior Center. Opening the floodgates lowered the water level at Mill Pond, enabling the herring to sneak through.

This year, said Kilborn, the floodgates at the Center Falls Dam are currently closed, not allowing the herring to pass.
However, selectmen in December gave the green light for the construction of a fish ladder at the dam. Environmental project management firm de maximis offered to fund the project as part of the cleanup of a hazardous federal Superfund site in Woburn.
Although nothing is finalized, Kilborn said it looks like the project is going to begin in November, and at no cost to the town. Kilborn also said some of the large rocks near Scalley Dam, which funnels into Horn Pond, will be moved this summer in order to provide better passage for the fish.
Kilborn said these efforts could enable the herring to get past the base of Horn Pond either this year or next year, further enhancing the herring run.
The return of these fish, said Kilborn, which used to swim through Winchester in the 1870s, is restoring the habitat of the Aberjona River. Since last year, eagles have been sighted and herons can be seen resting in trees alongside the river, he said.
"This is part of Winchester's history," said Kilborn, thanking local officials, MyRWA, the Division of Marine Fisheries and residents for their efforts. "It's been a great community event."

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