The annual herring migration is a natural wonder. For centuries, people have watched in awe as hundreds of thousands of herring journeyed from the ocean upstream to spawn in freshwater ponds, drawn by some unseen force of nature. Today the once plentiful river herring are being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The dramatic decline in the herring population has us wondering if this is a specter of things to come. Could river herring be the aquatic equivalent of the "canary in a coal mine"?


Barnstable Land Trust (BLT) wants to ensure that the herring have safe passage for the generations to come so we are leading the effort to preserve a strategically important 1.17-acre lot at the headwaters of the Marstons Mills River. It is the last remaining undeveloped parcel along the fishway that leads the herring to their spawning grounds in Middle Pond. All of the river's migrating blueback herring and alewives pass this point, relying on flowing waters of the Marstons Mills River to reach their spawning habitat. Shifting sands at the head of the run often impede the flow of fresh water, so access over this privately owned parcel is critical to the maintenance of the run.

A dirt and gravel drive enters the property and connects to an old woods road. Well-wooded and densely vegetated, this parcel slopes gently down to the Marstons Mills River and on Middle Pond. A well-worn trail on the property connects to five acres of Town-owned open space along the herring run. The scenic views of Middle Pond from the property cannot be overstated.

This parcel has many conservation values. It is up-gradient of seven public wells that provide drinking water to homes in Marstons Mills. It is mapped as a Priority Habitat Area for Rare Species, and is in a Living Waters Critical Supporting Watershed.

The Town Council approved a request for $150,000 from Community Preservation Act Funds. BLT still needs to raise $115,000 by June 30th to purchase the land. Thanks to a community that cares, we're more than halfway there! But we need your help to complete this vital acquisition. Please "Help the Herring Run" by making a donation and spreading the word. Visit to donate online or send a check to BLT, PO Box 224, Cotuit MA 02632; for more information call BLT at 508-771-2585.

~ Jaci Barton, BLT Executive Director



A Report from the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan Amendment 5 Hearing in Fairhaven

On Monday, March 19 I attended the New England Marine Fisheries Management Council hearing on Amendment 5 in Fairhaven. I hitched a ride with the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association. About 100-120 people attended.

Two members of the Atlantic herring fleet spoke and maintained that they had a "clean" fishery and that they were providing a valuable service and also feeding the starving people in Nigeria and New Bedford.

All of the other speakers were in remarkable agreement on 5 issues:

1. 100% observer coverage; some argued for 3-4 observers per vessel

2. No dumping at sea; all catch must be accounted for

3. All catch must be weighed.

4. No midwater trawling in areas closed to groundfishing

5. River herring must be protected (but no one specified how that should be done)

Only one person spoke directly to the issue of river herring bycatch .

For folks planning on attending the Plymouth hearing on Tuesday, March 27, I suggest you bring a short script with specific recommendations and read it at the hearing, then submit your script to the recorder. Most people did this. I was pleased to see that Sarah Peake (MA State Representative, 4th Barnstable District) sent a staffer to read comments. A representative from the Nantucket Board of Selectmen also attended.

Consider carpooling with other herring count volunteers if you are traveling to Plymouth.


-Barbara Brennessel, Wellfleet Herring Count Volunteer



It's Time to Speak Up for River Herring – Hearings about Bycatch in March

After years of wondering and worrying about river herring being caught as bycatch in the Atlantic herring fishery, we finally have the opportunity to DO something about it. Due in large part to the efforts of watershed associations, recreational fishermen, herring wardens, environmental organizations, and river herring enthusiasts, the New England Marine Fisheries Management Council has put river herring on the agenda.

The Council is responsible for writing Fishery Management Plans for all fisheries within the federal Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which are the waters from 3 to 200 miles from shore. The original plan for the Atlantic Herring Fishery was written in 1999, and the Council is now working on Amendment 5 to the Plan. Amendment 5 contains several different management options for collecting data on the quantity of river herring are caught in federal waters, and for minimizing that catch. The Council plans to vote on the final measures in June of 2012.

The Council is looking for comments on which options to choose, and that is where you can help.

The public hearing document that explains the proposed management measures can be found here.

The hearings in Massachusetts are being held on the following dates

  • Gloucester, Wednesday, March 14
  • Fairhaven, Monday, March 19
  • Plymouth, Tuesday, March 27

The full list of hearings with locations, dates and times can be found here.

The Council will accept written comments by mail or email until April 9. Written comments can be sent to the address below, and emails can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Attention/Subject Line: Herring Amendment 5 Comments).

Mr. Paul Howard

New England Fishery Management Council

50 Water Street

Newburyport, MA 01950

Stay tuned to the River Herring Network blog and the Forum for discussion on what management measures will be most likely to protect river herring.


-Abby Franklin, March 13. 2012



River Herring Network Secures 2012 Funding

I've got some good news to share with you all.  The Massachusetts Bays Program has granted the River Herring Network another small grant for 2012 to continue building the website as a resource, providing technical workshops for wardens and stakeholders, and to refine the best management practices with you all!

To that end, you'll be hearing a lot more from us this spring.  We'll try to get something together before the runs start and we'll help recruit volunteers for your count programs.  Let us know what you'd like to see the Network do this year!  Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your suggestions!


In other news, the New England Fishery Management Council will be making a decision this spring on including river herring bycatch measures in the sea herring fishery management plan.  Please check out the Latest News section and the Forum for more information on hearings, public comment periods, and background information on these changes that could help river herring.


Does anyone think that the weird winter weather will impact when the herring will return to the runs this year??


--Melissa Sanderson

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