Volunteer herring counters needed in April and May 2021 for recording important data on the health of our fish
By Ramona Krogman
If the definition of a trusted volunteer is someone who shows up to get the job done even when is not as glamorous as they hoped, then HPWA is truly blessed. Volunteer herring counters spend April and May 2021 watching the water and recording data, hoping to see fish. Each count was 10 minutes long. The counter recorded weather conditions, time, date, and the number of fish observed at a small bridge where the Monument (Herring) River enters Great Herring Pond. The fringe benefits of counting are moments of beautiful spring weather. Or bird song. Or counting a school of herring making their way into the pond. This year we were only short on the herring sightings. But our counters stayed the course, providing data for the Division of Marine Fisheries.
The counts were low this year. Most counters recorded zeros or low numbers of fish. Fortunately, zeros are useful in the analysis of data. Our counts were submitted to John Sheppard of the Diadromous Fisheries Biology & Management Project. The data was analyzed using an algorithm to estimate the number of herring traveling into the pond based on observations. The number of herring this year was estimated at 17,076 based on over 200 counts in 59 days. This number is much lower than past years. An electronic counter positioned near a small motel near Route 6 monitors the run and is a point of comparison. The counter registered 117,075 herring moving toward the Monument River. This is down from 302,095 recorded in 2020 and over 500,000 in 2019.
Our run was not monitored last year due to COVID. Rivers that were monitored in 2020 provided a point of comparison between 2020 and 2021. According to John, a majority decreased in 2021. He reports that lower than normal water levels were experienced in 2020 due to drought. The effect was so severe that ponds could not fully recharge over the winter and river flows this spring were operating on a deficit. Drought conditions this spring also affected the passage of fish.
Additional, Abigail Archer, a leader of the River Herring Network, reported runs across the Southshore and Cape saw decreased numbers for 2021. More detailed information from River Herring Network members will be available via a series of Webinars from December through March.
The chart included here shows the variation of herring counts over time. We can be encouraged that low years in the past have been followed by rebounding populations. The effects of a wet summer may assist with next year’s count.
To those who counted, many thanks! Your efforts are invaluable in supporting the study of this important species. We invite you to join us again in April of 2022 when we hope to meet in person at the bridge and observe large schools of herring. Enjoy the winter off and be ready to count again next spring. We’re depending on you.