November 1, 2023, Orleans Town Hall, Orleans, MA
By Ramona Krogman, HPWA Vice President
The annual River Herring Network meeting was held on the Cape this year, at Orleans Town Hall on November 1, 2023. HPWA board members attended as they have every year for the past 7 years. HPWA is very grateful for the hours volunteers have put in to count herring entering GHP.
The three main goals of the Network are to:
1) Facilitate communication among herring wardens, state and federal fish biologists, academics, and river herring enthusiasts
2) Support herring wardens in their role as active participants in fisheries management processes
3) Document and communicate the natural and cultural history of the herring runs for the people of Massachusetts.
Count totals for herring runs on the South Shore were presented by Brad Chase, MA Division of Marine Fisheries Diadromous Project. Only the electronic values were provided for our HPWA run (Monument /Herring River). Based on Brad’s presentation and the mass.gov website, our run has not rebounded to 2019 numbers. The electronic count was reported to be 181,000. Our volunteer visual counts were provided to John Sheppard, Diadromous Fisheries Biology & Management Project, MA DMF. After evaluating our observations with an algorithm, we observed the equivalent of 13,894 herring entering Great Herring Pond. The number of herring typically decreases between the electronic counter and our observation point since blue back herring are more likely to spawn in the river and not continue to the pond.
There were plans for improvement on the Cape Cod Canal approach for our run, but the water was too high this year. Improvements will be on the plan for 2024. Though some runs have been affected by plants encroaching, it is not clear this is an issue with our run
There will be a stock assessment of river herring in 2024. “The Atlantic States Marine Commission conducts stock assessments on Commission-managed species in order to determine the health and status of the fish stocks and to provide scientific advice to fisheries managers. The Commission also works closely with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries Science Centers and Regional Fishery Management Councils on the assessments for jointly or cooperatively managed species, such as Atlantic herring, summer flounder, and Spanish mackerel.” The last assessment document was released in 2017 and the Monument River (our run) was part of the assessment.
In 2017 the determination was:
“Though some positive signs were apparent through the update, river herring continue to be depleted on a coastwide basis and near historic lows. The “depleted” determination was used instead of “overfished” because of the many factors that have contributed to the declining abundance of river herring, including not just directed and incidental fishing, but also habitat loss, predation and climate change.”
It will be interesting to see how data collection by electronic and in-person counting will affect the status in 2024. There are questions about our current data collection via visual counts between 7:00 am and 7:00 pm. We have a high incident of zero counts. Brad Chase was asked about extending the counting hours to early dawn and dusk. He explained that the counting process we are using was established when scientists were confident that herring were moving during daylight hours. Several things have changed:
- Day time water temperatures are increasing.
- Predators are rebounding, including otters. Apex predators are not rebounding so herring predators are unchecked.
- Herring appear to have adapted to moving in the dark.
Brad indicated there was a discussion about changing times but that means a change of visual counts across the board to have comparable data. Electronic counts are being used more and more.
Based on feedback from the Diadromous Fisheries Biology & Management Project, we will be making some changes in our visual counts for 2024.
- Reducing midday counts to the bare minimum or eliminating counts from 10 am to 4 pm
- Scheduling our hardy, determined counters heavily between 7-10 am and 4-7 maximizing the counts at these times
- Adding counts pre-dawn and after dusk. Flashlights may be needed. These counts will be recorded but not submitted to John Sheppard as main data.
We are always looking for counters. The season runs from April 1 through May 31, 2024. All it requires is 10 minutes of time at least once per week during the count season. We are also happy to have volunteers count multiple times per week. Please let us know if you would like to count before 7:00 am or after 7:00 pm.
Counters can sign up by emailing Ramona Krogman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you, counters!