Have you ever wondered what a herring warden does in the Fall?

After Labor Day and the mass exodus of people from Cape Cod, the juvenile river herring, also known as fry start their downstream journey from the ponds they have called home for the past 2 or 3 months to salt marsh embayments and then eventually to the open ocean.

As Wellfleet's Herring Warden, I start preparing for this movement of fish in early August. I'll take you for a tour as I go on my rounds. I start at the "Sluice way" between Gull and Higgins ponds. A quick look allows me to see the water level and gage the ability for the fry to oscillate from one pond to the other. There is a flow but a bit less than the fish need to move around. That will require a bit of sand manipulation. The 80 foot long stretch is easily changed into a passable flow but digging 1 shovel deep and 2 shovels wide. If we get rain soon I won't need to do much there until later in the season, my actions here for now will be weather permitting and can wait for now.

The next spot is "Patience Brook" - one of my favorite places to hang out. It is named for the woman (Patience Gibbs) who kept a flow of water through this connection between Herring and Higgins ponds back in the 1800's. I first thought the name was derived from the slow but steady flow of water passing by.The brook is narrow and shallow allowing for the same type of simple maintenance as the sluice way, but the Brook is a little more complicated. It has a lot of trees and shrubs along the banks and a small culvert right smack dab in the middle of the 200 foot length. The Brook occasionally dries up on the downstream side of the culvert stopping the ability of the fry to move into the pond that allows access to the Herring River itself. And that is the case today - dry for about 12 feet. A good rain will also cause a flow here much like the sluice way. Maybe the weather will take care of this as well.

My third and final stop for the day is where Herring Pond flows into a shallow narrow area that at maximum is about 18 inches deep but is usually only 3-9 inches deep most of the year. This is the beginning of the Herring River, but I call this area the "Herring Brook". With boots on and clam rake in hand I begin walking the brook. I move some of the debris from the Brook's bottom to the side and sometimes up and over the embankment. This is difficult work between the briars and a very limited area to place the debris. This work will allow a good flow of water when we do get rain.

The citizens of Wellfleet have made many changes to this 1/8 mile long area. It was hand dug by the Freeman family back around 1700 and given to the town for the Alewife run (Belding 1920). The Brook was dug out much like a follow the dots picture, except the Freemans used the fresh water springs that were numerous in the area as they directed the water to what at that time was a tidal harbor up to what is now State Highway Route 6. Now tidal salt water only reaches a little bit beyond the Herring River dike that was constructed across the mouth of the river in 1908.

About half way down the Brook I stop at the Old Kings Highway culvert. This is the area where we conduct our spring herring counts. It's a very pleasant place to spend some time even when you are wrestling the wall of briars like I did this day. This one area from the culvert to the power lines some 300 feet or so has the steepest slope of the river. In dry years I have to make a bunch of rock weirs to allow for an acceptable flow of water for the fry to pass through to the marsh.

I spent three and a half hours today clearing briars, and it will take another 4 or 5 to complete the task. Clearing this area will allow me to make the rock weirs if they needed of course.

Next week I should be out of the brook and into the marsh.

Jeff Hughes, Town of Wellfleet Herring Warden


Summary of June 12 Workshop

On June 12 the River Herring Network held its first evening workshop from 5:30-7:00PM at the Bourne Veterans Memorial Community Center in Buzzards Bay. The intent was to find a time when volunteer wardens who are employed in other fields could attend after their 9-5 workday. Fourteen wardens attended representing eight different towns, along with several MA Division of Marine Fisheries staff members.

Abby Franklin opened the meeting with several announcements including the New England Fisheries Management Council meeting on June 20 in Portland, ME and the three workshops scheduled by NOAA NMFS as part of the data gathering process to evaluate the petition to list river herring as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. More information can be found on these events on the RHN website under "Latest News".

Brad Chase, Aquatic Biologist with the MA DMF began the program with an overview of the laws governing river herring in Massachusetts including MGL Chapter 130 Sections 19, 47, 50, 94, and 95. He also explained the history and process of developing Memorandums of Understanding between the state and towns in the 1940s to manage the harvest of river herring, and the renewal of many MOUs in the 1980s. Several towns in the state with active herring runs are without MOUs. He outlined how the management of river herring has changed from being managed primarily by the towns and state, to now involving the regional organization of fifteen states called the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). ASMFC was established in 1947 and recently updated the Fishery Management Plan for Shad and River Herring in 2009. That plan calls for the creation of sustainable fisheries management plans for states that would like their river herring fisheries open for harvest. Brad offered some thoughts on how this process could affect towns that are interested in opening their fisheries after the state moratorium on harvest expires in 2014, and suggested that a future RHN workshop could focus on this upcoming issue.

David Cavanuagh, Chair of the Middleboro-Lakeville Herring Fishery Committee gave an enlightening talk on the history and operations of the seven member town committee. The volunteer group manages the herring run in the Nemasket River which has its headwaters in the Assawompsett Pond complex and discharges into the Taunton River. River herring in this run travel 23 miles to spawn in the largest natural great ponds in the state. David described some of the challenges of providing passage, issuing permits and controlling harvest, and managing water levels in the ponds that are also used as a water supply for the City of New Bedford. The current committee was formed in 1996 and funding for its management activities has come through the sale of herring permits. Since the moratorium the committee has focused its efforts on a counting program and on educating the public about the town's historic resource.

After an hour and a half of absorbing information you would think people would be ready to go straight home. On the contrary – participants stuck around to ask Brad and David questions, and then all sat down at the table to eat pizza together and continue the conversations.

Stay tuned for news about the next workshop in September and the second annual meeting in October. If you have any ideas for topics please feel free to submit your ideas on the Forum.

Abby Franklin



Free Bus to Council Meeting June 20th

We've all heard people say: "There's plenty of other fish in the sea", but while it may apply to the dating pool, we've found that it doesn't tend to apply to actual fish. Take river herring, the fish whose lifestyle carries them between our rivers and the ocean each year. Less than one percent of newly hatched river herring actually make it to the ocean and once there, the life doesn't get much easier. A fish might fall prey to bass, bluefish, shore birds, or the mouths of the herring industry's midwater trawl nets.


River herring are among the species often taken as bycatch in the sea herring fishery and need to be protected. That protection comes now, in the form of Amendment 5 to the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan. Amendment 5 will hold the herring industry accountable for the fish they are catching along with their target species, such as river herring and groundfish, and includes measures for 100% observer coverage and river herring hotspot closures.


Amendment 5 is being voted on by the New England Fishery Management Council on June 20th at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland, Maine, and the river herring need your support. The CHOIR Coalition is sponsoring a FREE charter bus to anyone who would like to attend the meeting on Wednesday and show their support (meals will be provided).

There are three locations to catch the bus:

Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association office at 1566 Main St. in Chatham at 5 AM

• Burger King Park and Ride at exit 6 on Iyannough Rd at 5:30 AM

• Viking Club at 410 Quincy Ave. in Braintree at 6:30 AM

The bus will depart Portland at 5 PM. If interested, RSVP to reserve your seat by calling Claire at the CCCHFA at (508) 945-2432 x108 as soon as possible.

We hope to see you there!

-Claire Fitz-Gerald

Policy Coordinator, CCCHFA



The River Herring Network invites herring wardens, herring counters, and herring enthusiasts to an evening workshop on

Tuesday, June 12, 5:30-7pm 

at the Bourne Veteran's Memorial Community Center on 239 Main St in Buzzards Bay.

The workshop will begin with Brad Chase from the Division of Marine Fisheries speaking on the state laws that govern the management of river herring. David Cavanaugh, Chair of the Middleborough-Lakeville Fisheries Commission will then speak on the history and activities of the Commission.

Pizza and drinks will be provided.

This is a great opportunity to meet fellow herring wardens and volunteers and compare notes on the 2012 run. Please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any questions or to RSVP.