Town of Wellfleet contacts; Herring warden, Jeff Hughes
, Phone # 508 237 5463
Fry at Wellfleet's Sluiceway
Town run; Herring river, A 4 mile river running through an 1,100 acre estuary to 4 head water ponds covering a 157 acre surface area.
Run size; 10,000 - 30,000 annually. 250,000 at the turn of the 19th century.
Status of run; currently improving but has been in decline from several issues in the past century
WELLFLEET HERRING RUN
The Herring River waterway originates at Herring pond and after a 4 mile journey unloads its waters into Wellfleet Bay. Most people view the Herring River from the dike at Chequessett Neck Road and see a waterway that is several hundred feet wide and 8’ deep at high tide. During its 4 mile journey the waterway steadily gains recharge water from the 1,100 acre marsh. Only a small amount of the Rivers water is discharge from the 4 ponds Gull, Higgins, Williams and Herring. From Herring Pond to Black Pond the river is shallow and narrow, several areas of the rivers sub-straight often run dry during low water recharge years or seasons, which can be typical in summer months.
From Herring Pond to Black Pond the stream varies in width from 2’ to about 6’ wide. The depth also varies from no flow in dry periods to about 2’ deep. Starting in late march or early April the first of the 3 spurts of migrations begin, the spawning adults return to the ponds from which they were born. The adults are between 6 and 12” long and about 3” tall. The second migration soon follows often within 4-10 days but some times as much as 3 weeks later, With some migration of smaller size adult schools during the lulls between. As many as 5 spurts have occurred in some years. By the end of June most migrating adults have passed through to the ponds. By mid-July most adults have returned from the ponds back to the herring river marsh and embayment's.
During the autumn the leaves on the trees and bushes fall into the stream. It takes only a few branches to start a dam made of leaves that acts like a sieve to the river herring fry. These dams often show up right after a big windy storm. The fry tend to leave the ponds after a big rain event and find themselves wrapped up in leaves instead of flowing down stream toward Wellfleet Bay. They die when this happens. In this ½ mile long stretch of stream in some places the banks are 5’ or so above the level of the water, or the banks might be lined with bushes causing a great deal of logistical difficulty of where to put the removed debris. In the past we might clear a small area and make a pile of sticks and leaves to allowed an acceptable flow of water.
At Old Kings Highway and the next 200-300’ of stream runs downhill from to where the power lines pass the river. This is the only area in Wellfleet's Herring river with a sloping grade. The culvert at Old Kings highway is located at a low point of 2 hills; the road dumps sand into the stream and raises the topography on one side of the culvert.
After a few storms the sand sometimes stops the flow of water. On one side of the culvert the water is 2’ deep the other side becomes an earthen dam. When this happens all 4 ponds become disconnected from the Herring River and its estuaries.
Shortly after the power lines the steam flows into the 1,100 acre marsh and the main source of water changes from pond discharge to water lens recharge. The difference between the two being recharge from the water lens is consistently between 52 and 55 degrees making it warmer in early spring and cooler in the summer than the pond water that is affected largely from the seasonal temperature change. I often wonder if the marsh temperature is part of the cause of the early migration occurring at dusk and into the early evening hours.
Now in the marsh the 2nd mile of the 4 mile journey it meanders past rt6 often along side some small sandy hills it widens to 6' and often as much as 25' but remains between 1' and 3' deep on top of a muddy sub straight between 1' and 3' deep. There are many submerged aquatic vegetation species which often clog up the narrow and shallow areas. A careful approach to maintenance is always necessary in order to maintain passage while affecting the natural environment as little as possible. During different times of the year many species of fish, birds, mammals, invertebrates, micro invertebrates, and planktons make this a thriving part of the local food web which in turn contributes to the food chain far past the local waters.
During the 3rd mile the river meanders less, a fairly straight ditch created to help control the mosquito population nearly a century ago by-passes many natural meanders of the river disconnecting many natural attributes of the marsh and river systems. This area runs along side of swamp that was once a salt water tidal area. Its waters are typically between 10' and 20' wide,2'-4' deep and with a muddy sub-straight of 1'-3' deep.
During the 1980's this area often experienced poor water quality readings with low dissolved oxygen and high acidity that lead to massive fish kills of Eels, river herring fry, and any many other minnows and small fish. The past decade the water quality has had consistently good readings. The change in health has come from many areas, better run off controls from roads, less mechanical disturbances to the sub straight, a better flow of water from annual hand maintenance. Several annual events that include the Cape Cod National Seashore, AmeriCorps, Wellfleet health agents, herring warden, and local volunteers contribute hundreds of hours in order to maintain "a nearly clogged river all over with a consistent flow of water" This has been a true community effort for more than a decade.
The last mile of the river becomes deeper and wider, has far less fish obstructions, goes from tidal fresh water marsh to brackish marsh. This areas water quality and health has been in question for decades and is currently under an extensive review for restoration. The Herring river estuary will become one of he largest restoration projects off the North American coast. Click this link for more on the restoration project.