By Ramona Krogman
Spring has arrived after a mild, wet winter. The peepers are sounding in the ponds, the trees are turning pink with new buds, and it is time to count herring! Spring brings the return of river herring to Great and Little Herring Pond. We need your help to document the number of fish returning. A count takes 15 minutes once or twice a week. Only 10 minutes to count and a few minutes to log your data. A small commitment to generate data on an important species.
River herring are a part of the history of Massachusetts. They provided a source of nutrients for Native Americans and newly arrived settlers. Today they play a vital role in the North Atlantic ecosystem, providing food for tuna, cod, striped bass, seabirds, herons, dolphins, and whales.
River herring are a key food for nearshore cod populations. Recovery of their populations helps stabilize coastal fisheries. River herring provide a nutrient transfer link between the ocean and streams.
River herring include Alewife and Blueback herring. They are an anadromous species meaning they spend most of their lives at sea but return to fresh water to spawn. They lay their eggs in the same stream or pond in which they hatched. Unlike Pacific salmon, they do not die but return to the sea after spawning. Individuals complete the cycle several times in their lives. The young hatch and grow into fingerlings before following their parents out to sea.
Alewife river herring begin to move up the Cape Cod canal and into the fish ladder located along Route 6 as the water temperature reaches 51°F. Alewife prefer the quieter water of Great and Little Herring Ponds. Spawning for Blueback herring is initiated as the water reaches 57 °F. They prefer to spawn in fast-moving waters such as the Monument (Herring) River. Blueback and Alewife river herring populations declined sharply during the 1980’s due to pressures on habitat and overfishing. They did not become a threatened species because of a lack of data to support the need for protection.
Counts like the HPWA count provide data for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries to support efforts to protect the river herring. Our herring move under Route 6 and through an electronic fish counter then into the Monument River. Those traveling into Great and Little Herring Ponds continue up the river past our counters. Herring typically come through in groups. At the height of the run, several hundred can come through in a single count.
HPWA counters volunteer to aid in the collection of valuable data to protect the overall well-being of the river herring in the Pond. They also raise awareness of the run with neighbors living on or near the Pond.
If you would like to volunteer as a counter in April and May, email Ramona Krogman at firstname.lastname@example.org