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Middleboro Herring Fishery Commission seeks funds for river projects 1-18-18

Middleboro Herring Fishery Commission seeks funds for river projects
South Coast Today

By Robert Barboza/Contributing WriterPosted Jan 18, 2018 at 3:01 AM

MIDDLEBORO — Anyone who's tried to paddle up the Nemasket River from the Wareham Street dam to Assawompset Pond knows the problems that plague that part of the river: current-choking sandbars, mats of the invasive weed milfoil, and a bottom thick with decayed vegetation and fallen tree branches.

All of those issues contribute to the continuing decline of water quality in the river, and hamper the annual migration of those herring species that come to the pond to spawn each spring.

After years of worrying about that decline, the Middleboro-Lakeville Herring Fishery Commission is trying to come up with a long-range plan to solve some of those problems, and help restore the river to conditions more favorable to herring and the other species that live in the once-healthy waterway connecting the two towns.

Commissioners spent quite a bit of time at their Jan. 11 meeting at the Green School in Middleboro discussing their options for a river clean-up, and planning for a March 7 "educational" symposium in Lakeville where state officials, environmental advocacy groups, academics and other interested parties will gather to discuss what can be done about the invasive weed problem in the river.

Primarily, the commission and local officials are hoping to find out what kind of aquatic weed control measures have worked in other communities, and what state and federal agencies overseeing inland waterways will allow Middleboro and Lakeville to do to help make the river healthier and more free-flowing than it is now.

Using mechanical harvesters, hand-pulling the invasive weeds, and using chemical treatments with selective biological agents are a few of the options that will be up for discussion at that March symposium. Around the same time, you can expect to see some of the fishery commissioners cruising the river in canoes or small work boats, clearing fallen branches that might be obscuring water flow and the annual herring migration.

The small sea-going fish swim up the Taunton River in March and April to reach the Nemasket River and the Lakeville ponds, where they will spawn the next generation of herring if there are suitable water conditions. The hatchlings eventually make their way downriver and back to the ocean to live until the next spawning season.

Unfortunately, the fishery commissioners have virtually no budget to help finance river improvement projects. In recent years, the only funding available to them has been from a revolving fund holding receipts from herring harvesting permits; a decline in herring migration numbers has caused selectmen to suspend permit sales for the last few years.

Hoping to secure some funds for a pilot river clean-up effort, and the state and federal permits required for any waterways work, the commission voted 5-1 last week to seek $2,500 from the two member communities in the coming fiscal year, starting July 1.

Lakeville officials have already pledged to contribute their share of the $5,000 start-up fund, and commissioners hope to meet with Middleboro selectmen soon to get a commitment on that town's contribution to a potential small-scale clean-up experiment.

The commission also voted 4-2 to suggest to selectmen in both towns that a shared capital improvement account be set up, with annual contributions of up to $25,000 from each community to build up a substantial fund that could be used for a sustained, long-term river clean-up effort.

Commissioners David Cavanaugh and Ron Burgess said they voted against the latter request only because they are hesitant to ask the towns for a substantial amount of money without a long-range plan in place.

After attending an Assawompset Ponds Complex Committee meeting in December, new commission member Louise Dery-Wells reported that "Lakeville is very receptive to contributing some funds" for a pilot project dealing with the milfoil infestation in the river. She and other commissioners are also optimistic that Middleboro selectmen will support the effort as well, and hope to get a test project planned and permitted this year.

The commission has reached out to the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Fisheries & Wildlife agency, and the federal Army Corps of Engineers, seeking information on possible grant money or state aid for river clean-ups, but got nowhere, members indicated.

So, the appeal to town officials for some seed funding for a pilot project was initiated. The $5,000 sought could pay for a few days of weed-pulling with a mechanical eco-harvester, or an attempt to clear a few sandbars with shore-based equipment.

A more ambitious attempt to use a larger clamshell dredge to deepen parts of the channel would likely cost $5,000 or more per week of work, plus transport and disposal expenses for the dredged materials, commissioners suggested. Any work in or along the river would require state and federal permitting, a process likely to take many months to complete, Commission Chair William Orphan noted.

BROWNIE SCOUT VISIT PLANNED

Educating the public about river conditions affecting the herring fishery is also an important part of the commission's mission, Orphan said, before the committee voted to endorse a proposed April 7 visit to the Wareham Street fish ladder and park by a pair of Middleboro Brownie troops.

Brownie Troop 69068 leader Laura Stagiola visited with the commission to propose the April visit as part of the troop's "Wonders of Water" Project to earn merit badges for environmental studies. The young Scouts will spend a day on water-related activities at their headquarters and the park, she indicated.

The commissioners enthusiastically endorsed the idea, with several members volunteering to be on hand that day to make brief presentations about river conditions, the herring migration, and related topics.

"We look forward to working with you" on the project, Commissioner Cavanaugh told the troop leader, expressing his hopes that some of the Brownies might grow up to be fish commissioners or herring counters someday.

As part of their educational efforts, the commission is also working with an Eagle Scout candidate who is planning to repair or replace signage and informational kiosks about the herring run at Oliver Mill Park for his Eagle Scout project.

The commission is also planning to use some of its limited funds to make similar improvements this year to the signage and informational kiosks at the Wareham Street fish ladder.

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