Herring Count 2009

Herring Count 2010

Herring Run Moratorium Will Remain In Effect Three More Years

by William F. Galvin

HARWICH – The river herring harvest, possession and sale moratorium put in place three years ago by the state Division of Marine Fisheries will continue for another three years, selectmen agreed Monday night. Last October, the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee approved the continuation of the moratorium based on the dearth of anadromous fish migrating up rivers in the state to spawning headwaters. Division of Marine Fisheries Director Paul J. Diodati has implemented the additional three-year ban as of Jan. 1, 2009, which includes those runs within municipalities which have been granted local control by the state. “We saw some initial positive signs of river herring population increases in spring 2008 as a result of these sacrifices,” Diodati said.

“We’ve seen fish every year but the last time we saw a significant number was in 1999,” Natural Resources Officer Thomas Leach said this week of the once prolific Herring River run. Leach said there has been improvement since the moratorium was put in place three years ago and last year there were a few days with significant numbers moving up the ladder at Johnson’s Flume in West Harwich. “Once again this is the state telling us they’re giving us permission for us to close the run,” Selectman Ed McManus. His reference was to efforts by the town to close the run four years ago, before the state instituted the first moratorium, because of depleted fish stocks. A year later the state mandated the closure.

There remains a lack of recovery in the river herring runs in the commonwealth, DMF officials said in a prepared statement announcing the extension of the moratorium. “All available information indicates that the number of spawning river herring entering the runs in the spring of 2008 remained well below average and mortality remained high,” officials stated in the DMF New letter. “But there is some good news. The moratorium appears to have helped stabilize the runs, although at lower levels, and many of our runs showed a slight 2008 increase in the number of spawning fish.”

DMF officials predict three more years of a moratorium will allow the maximum number of spawners to complete an entire life cycle, thus increasing the probability of stock recovery. The state fisheries agency admitted there are currently unidentified factors contributing to morality. It conducted a study on the impacts of river herring by-catchin the sea herring pelagic fisheries which found 70 percent of vessel trips yielded no river herring by-catch, and only a very small number of trips had significant quantities, with annual estimates between 285,000 to 1.7 million pounds. “While significant, this amount of mortality is not sufficient to cause the coastwide decline in river herring stocks and so there must be other, currently unidentified factors contributing to mortality,” the study concluded.

Leach said the Harwich Conservation Trust and the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association will conduct a comprehensive river herring counting program in the run this spring. They are looking for volunteers to do a herring count once the run begins. Leach estimated it would start in mid-April and continue through mid-June. He said 40 people have volunteers to assist with the count. “One of the goals is to estimate the number of fish in the run,” Leach said. “We don’t know what that number is.”

Leach said Ryan Mann, outreach and stewardship coordinator for HCT and Lara Slifka, cooperative research program coordinator with the CCCHFA, also a member of the conservation commission, will be overseeing the survey. Residents interested in volunteering to assist with the count can contact Mann at the trust’s office in South Harwich. Mann said the commitment can be as little as 10 minutes a week, but volunteers can do more.

Selectman Larry Cole asked if the moratorium would be rescinded should the herring return in large numbers during the period of the ban. “I think it’s the state telling us it is closed until 2012,” Leach said, explaining the moratorium will cover the three-year life cycle of fish in the river.

No Surge In Herring Anticipated This Season, Runs Remain Closed

by Mary J. Metzger

HARWICH - (4/12/07) Every spring for thousands of years, people on Cape Cod have eagerly awaited the return of the herring. This year the waiting is accompanied by a degree of worry. Massachusetts is in the second spring of a three-year moratorium on the taking of any river herring. Since 2000, every herring run in the commonwealth has seen a precipitous drop in returning fish. Harwich Natural Resources Officer and Harbormaster Tom Leach asked selectmen to close the Herring River Run in 2004, two years earlier than the state. “It was so obvious the numbers were down.” Leach remembers when the river ran black with herring. “Even 15 years ago, in 10 seconds I could count 100 herring moving past. By 2004 the numbers were so low our volunteer counters were getting bored waiting for a fish to come by.” Leach and the Harwich selectmen got complaints about the closure. Herring is used for bait, sometimes referred to as “striper candy.” And herring run managers from other towns thought the Harwich closure would put more pressure on their runs. “No one’s complaining now,” Leach says. “They understand there is a serious problem with the herring.”

Harwich’s Herring River was one of the largest herring runs in the state and was an important part of the local economy in years gone by. The first “scouts” this year were seen on March 25, but most of the herring will wait just offshore until the river’s temperature nears 50 degrees. Leach is not optimistic about this year’s counts. “From fish scale research studies we know that the majority of fish in this run are three year olds. Fish coming back this year would have been hatched in 2004, a very bad year for herring. Three years before that was the drought.”

Some scientists think the 2000-2001 drought started the fast decline in herring numbers, but they are still trying to determine other factors, looking at fish passageways, water quality, and predators. Leach thinks the biggest factor in the decline may be from human predation in the form of the recently expanded sea herring fisheries. “One tow could equal all the herring in our run.” Atlantic sea herring is a separate species that does not migrate inland to spawn. River herring, however, interact and school with the sea herring. “Sea herring were nearly decimated by Russian trawlers in the 1970s,” said Peter Baker of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association (CCCHFA). “By the 1990s the stocks were declared rebuilt, and since that time foreign and domestic investment in the sea herring industry has taken off.” “These trawlers are huge. Their nets are the size of a football field wide and long, and eight stories high, with a two-inch mesh. One tow can take 100,000 pounds of fish. The best science says that we should only be taking 37,500 tons a year inshore. Last year 60,000 tons of Atlantic sea herring were taken inshore.”

Sea and river herring are keystone species, destined to be food for many other creatures in the food chain. A large catch of sea herring means a huge amount of by-catch of other species that is discarded. “They’re supposed to be fishing in the middle of the water column, but we know the herring spend the day on the bottom of the ocean, so the trawlers will be taking their catch there,” said Baker. “We don’t have any numbers for the amount of river herring in that by-catch. First of all, it’s hard to get numbers. It’s an ocean, not a forest. It’s big and things are always moving around.”

Federal observers stationed on commercial fishing boats have not been consistently required to monitor river herring in the by-catch, Baker said. CCCHFA fears that pressures on these keystone species will further damage the cod and tuna fisheries. They worked to get an amendment passed with the National Marine Fisheries that bans mid water trawlers from inshore waters of the Gulf of Maine, June through September, when tuna and ground fish are seeking the herring for food. “But due to political considerations, this amendment does not apply to the whole 50 mile backside of the Cape,” said Baker. “Sea herring trawlers can still come to within three miles of that shoreline and can be seen from Truro.” CCCHFA hopes to amend the amendment to make a Cape Cod buffer zone, but even if this is passed, it will be 2009 before it is implemented. Meanwhile, Tom Leach and other herring run managers are doing what they can on land to assist the river herring numbers. “It’s just as important to make sure the fish have a way out of their spawning ponds as a spring run in,” Leach said.

Only 1 percent of the fish fry survive a summer in the pond. Leach along with other Department employees, Heinz Proft, and Tom Telesmanick wade the complete herring run each year, to make sure that even with low summer levels, the stream will be accessible for fry to make it back out to the ocean. This year with the help of AmeriCorps Cape Cod volunteers he has completed much of the stream clean-up, removing fallen trees, and trimming some of the overhang. And he’s removed dirt bike ramps that can block the herring passage. CCCHFA is also involved with coastal stream clean-ups and seeking to get a culvert replaced in Orleans. Statewide there are 30,000 culverts that impede herring runs. Leach says the herring will wait until dark to go into the culvert which is part of the old rail-trail bike path. The culvert is not blocked, but herring shy away from the darkness. “But it would be very expensive to replace that culvert with a bridge.”

There will be an opportunity to see migrating herring swim through the Herring River, up Johnson’s Flume, into the West Reservoir and beyond during a walk of the Bell’s Neck Conservation Land Monday, April 23 at 9 a.m.. Sponsored by the Harwich Conservation Trust, the walk is free and open to the public. From Harwich Center go west on Great Western Road, turn left on Bell’s Neck Road and park on side of road between East and West Reservoirs. For information, call 508-432-3997 or visit www.harwichconservationtrust.org.4/12/07


Supersceding State Regulation have closed all herring runs in the Commonwealth through 2008

BOSTON - (11/14/05) Three-Year Moratorium on Harvest and Possesion & Sale (322CMR 6.17): In response to recent drastic declines of many river herring spawning runs, the harvest , possession or sale of river herring in the Commonwealth or in waters under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth by any person is prohibited through 2008. To accomodate the bait harvest fisheries, the Mass Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission approved a slight tolerance (up to 5%, by count, of a batch of fish may be comprised of river herring species). The state division of marine fisheries has instituted a moratorium on the taking of herring from rivers and runs in the commonwealth for the next three years.

Our Herring Run is closed for the season!

"The fishway is in trouble and we need your cooperation to restore our run."

Harwich Vote on Moratorium On Herring Harvest has been superceded by State Order (11/14/05)

State Closes Herring Runs Through 2008 To Revive Stocks
HARWICH - (12/08/05) The days of live-lining river herring to catch striped bass are over. The state division of marine fisheries has instituted a moratorium on the taking of herring from rivers and runs in the commonwealth for the next three years. “We’ve seen a continuous decline over the past few years,” Phil Brady of the DMF anadromous fish program said on Monday. “In some instances its been a catastrophic decline and we’re trying to reduce fish mortality.” The decision is no shock to Harwich Natural Resources Officer Thomas Leach, who was instrumental in 2004 in having the board of selectmen declare a moratorium on the taking of herring within town limits based on several years of drastic decline in the number of alewives heading into spawning headwaters. “Last year was horrible,” Leach said of the low number of fish working their way through Johnson’s Flume in West Harwich to Hinckley ’s, Seymour and Long ponds to spawn. The natural resource officer said there was a “powwow” a year ago in Plymouth with state fisheries staff, local natural resources officers and herring wardens to discuss the dwindling herring stocks in the runs of the commonwealth. “I wasn’t a promoter of this, but I told them what we did in Harwich,” Leach said.

The natural resources department had noticed the drastic decline of herring in Herring River as early as 2001 and the town took steps to reduce the number of fish taken by nonresidents to six fish per day, but the state rejected that proposal, instead setting the limit at 12 fish. Litigation ensued over the jurisdiction to regulate the run. The state retained that jurisdiction based on a law promulgated in 1941. However, the DMF agreed with the town there was a decline in the number of fish using the run and others on the Cape and supported the town’s moratorium in 2004. That moratorium has one year remaining and will be extended to 2008 by the state edict.

The Chatham herring run was closed to the taking of herring by selectmen in May 2004 at the request of herring warden Donald St. Pierre. The closure continued through 2005. St. Pierre reported a very disappointing year at the Ryder’s Cove Herring Run in 2004. “This poor showing was not unique to this run as substantially reduced stocks were reported in many herring runs throughout the Cape ,” he stated in the 2004 town report. St. Pierre said on Tuesday he has not received an official notice from the state on the closure, but he was aware one had been voted. The Chatham warden said he was planning to keep the run closed for the 2006 season. “We didn’t have a run,” St. Pierre said of the 2005 season. “I’d bet we didn’t see 300 fish all season.”

The state marine fisheries advisory commission held hearings in October on several new regulations, including institution of a moratorium on the “harvest, possession, or sale” of river herring. The moratorium will run from 2006 to 2008 and will be monitored closely. Brady said he expected there will be a mechanism in place for adaptive management should stocks improve. There is also a provision in place to accommodate the bait harvesting industry, allowing the possession of 5 percent, by count, of a batch of fish to be river herring species ---alewives or black-back herring. Brady said that rule applies to commercial fishermen who use bait fish to lure other catches, such as lobsters. He said if a bait user has five river herring among the bait, he must have 95 fish of other species, Brady said. Both the commonwealth and National Marine Fisheries Service are seeking to address this decline in a meaningful way, he said.

The moratorium does not impact the sea herring fishery. Brady said that is a completely different species, which is not anadromous, meaning the fish stay offshore and do not seek out rivers and freshwater ponds to spawn. St. Pierre said while the sea herring is a separate species, both the river and sea herring intermingle offshore and when the large seining vessels catch sea herring they also harvest the river herring and are depleting the resource. “Our run is so small you could wipe it out in one tow, literally,” St. Pierre said. “They’re catching herring like crazy and those fish are also a basic food fish for numerous other species.” There has been a precipitous decline in the herring stocks over the past five years. Brady cited similar documentation to that used by Leach when requesting the Harwich runs closure. The initial problem was caused by drought conditions in 2000 and 2001, when the water table dropped so low the fry were not able to get out of ponds and into river systems to return to the sea. They became baitfish and the prey of seagulls and other predators. “In those dry years we know we lost year classes,” Brady said. The state anadromous fish expert said river herring are fecund, capable of producing an enormous amount of eggs and regenerating stocks in a short period of time. The state has been monitoring the fish populations since the 1980s and Brady said traditionally a turnaround in the population occurs over a four-year period. But the stocks have been showing a downward trend for five to six years. DMF monitors river herring stocks by electronic counters in some runs and by volunteer counting methods in others. There are 39 runs on the Cape and more than 100 in the commonwealth. Brady said in the Mattapoisett run, 130,000 herring returned to spawning ground in 2000, but the number dipped to 50,000, then 75,000 and down to 5,000 in 2004. In Middleboro there have been declines from 2 million to below 400,000, Brady said.

The state official said concerns also exist for stock depletion in other states. Connecticut closed its runs three years ago, and Rhode Island is also “very concerned” about numbers and is considering a closure. As well as environmental conditions hampering the fish stock, Brady cited harvesting, poaching, bass, seals and cormorants predation as factors in the decline in population. St. Pierre said the local limits on river herring are so small-- usually a dozen fish-- it is not worth the effort to take these fish from the rivers for commercial use, such as lobster bait. “Hopefully we can increase the number of spawners that get to spawning grounds,” Brady said, citing the species’ ability to regenerate.

Traditionally river herring is harvested for its roe and for sports fishing. The 39 herring runs on the Cape draw thousands of tourists and many sportsfishermen who use the herring for live-lining bass. But Brady does not see the closure as having a major impact on sportfishing. He said menhaden and eels can also be used as live bait and he cited earlier days when fishermen used lobster tails as bass fishing bait. Brady also said artificial baits, such as plugs and lures, work well. To substantiate his position, Brady said the largest striped bass catch recorded, a 79-pound fish landed in New Jersey, was caught on a Rebel diving plug. He also said two of the three 73-pound fish holding the Massachusetts record were caught with artificial plugs. The other, caught in 1918, was with a live eel.

The decision to open or close the runs in the future rests with the DMF Director Paul J. Diodati, and the towns can be more restrictive with local regulations but not less, Brady said.
12/8/05 Chronicle

Harwich Run was actually closed in 2003

2005 results are no better. Where are the fish?
An interpretive sign on Rail Trail where it goes over the Herring River, Harwich HARWICH - (1/29/03) In 2003, The Board of Selectmen voted there would be no taking of herring from the town runs for the next three years. Selectmen Monday night (1/26/03) voted to put in place a moratorium to protect the dwindling resource. An initial concept for protection was floated by Tom Leach, Natural Resources Director, who recommended limits be reduced and a prohibition be put in place for the 2006 season to protect juvenile alewives and help regenerate the resource, an idea that was supported by the Division of Marine Fisheries. Leach said he did not think the board would be ready to act immediately on a moratorium. But Selectman Cyd Zeigler questioned the delay, pointing out if the town waits too long the run could be lost. He said there has been a degradation of the entire run over the past 15 years.

The poor condition of the run has been caused by three years of drought. The water levels in the spawning headwaters from 2000 to 2003 were so low, fry were unable to get through the connecting streams at Long Pond to return to the ocean. The juvenile fish languishing in the ponds became food for small mouth bass and pickerel. The vast majority of alewives returning to spawning grounds are of the three-year class, though there are some four and five-year classes. But the impact of the drought was obvious this year with herring wardens reporting “only one significant day at the run.” The natural resources officer expressed concern for losing the run if additional fish are removed from the reproductive cycle.

The regulations approved by selectmen close the runs through the 2006 season. The closure includes the run at Johnson’s flume in West Harwich and along the Herring River , its tributary streams and headwater ponds. The taking of alewives is also prohibited from Skinnequit Brook and pond.

It should be noted that other areas have also closed their runs for extended periods of time, including the entire state of Connecticut for conservancy. Harwich closed its run in the early 1800s because of similar concerns.

MGL Chapter 130 section 95: Whoever takes, kills or hauls onshore or disturbs, injures, hinders or obstructs the passage of any herring, alewives or other swimming marine food fish in a fishery created by a city or town, without its permission, contrary to its regulations, shall be punished by a fine of fifty dollars. Prosecutions under this section shall be commenced within thirty days of the offense.

Herring Run Ladder extension project February 2004Herring Run Ladder extension project February 2004

Brewster seeks controls while Harwich closes Run

Individuals and Organizations involved in herring work in the Gulf of Maine

A History of the Herring River
Herring Run Temperatures 2005
Herring Run Temperatures 1999
Herring Run Temperatures 2000
Herring Run Temperatures 2005
Long Pond Water Level Graph 1996 - 2003

Phil Brady, MA DMF (phone 508-563-1779 ext. 115) is in charge of all river herring in the State.

This is how the lower ladder was before we replaced it in 2004 (notes rusted out steel sheet pile).

This is how the ladder looks today after all that hard work.

January 12, 2006

Declining river herring runs force 3-year State ban on possession through 2008

Some look for the forsythia bushes to bloom, or the daffodils, but for Gayle Condit, it just wouldn't be spring without the annual herring migration.

For more than a mile, these fish are harried by predatory gulls as they battle their way upstream from Cape Cod Bay, up Paine's Creek in Brewster to Stony Brook, climbing the stony steps that lead past the old mill into a string of inland ponds where they spawn and die.

Herring in Brewster's Stony Brook makde their way up the herring run.
(File staff photo by Steve Heaslip)

For tens of thousands of years, its been a ritual of spring from Newfoundland down to the Carolinas. But that migration is now in jeopardy.

This past fall, the state Marine Fisheries Commission passed a regulation banning the possession of any river herring for the next three years because, since 2000, the number of river herring and a similar species, American shad, has been dropping at an alarming rate.

''We had a drastic decline last year,'' said Dave Cavanaugh, the fish warden at the most prolific herring run in the state, the Nemasket River in Lakeville and Middleboro. The run was down to just 400,000 fish from 2 million in 2000. That decline was mirrored at nearly every run in the state and throughout the Northeast, said Phil Brady, the fishery scientist in charge of river herring and shad for the state Division of Marine Fisheries.

The Bournedale run, for instance, was down to just 102,000 fish last year, less than a fifth of what it was in 1996 when 536,000 fish made the pilgrimage. The Cape alone has almost 40 herring runs, and Brewster's Stony Brook is one of its largest and most picturesque.

Something wrong

Condit's husband, Dana, is the longtime chairman of the Brewster Alewife Committee, and they live just up the street. They never installed an electric counter like the one at Bournedale, but, after a lifetime of watching the run, they knew something was wrong.

''We just kind of know it. The run is good, but not as good as it has been,'' Gayle Condit said.

Habitat loss, herring runs that were overgrown and not maintained, or were blocked by some man-made obstruction, plus overfishing of herring as they migrated inshore led to depleted numbers. But large-scale fishing on river herring and shad for bait and fertilizer ended just over a decade ago, and there's no shortage of juveniles returning to the sea each year.

Herring Facts

Alewife and blueback herring are known collectively as river herring.

Each spring they migrate from the ocean up rivers and streams to inshore lakes and ponds from Newfoundland to the Carolinas to spawn.

Larvae hatch and mature to fingerling size, around 3 inches, and head back out to sea in the summer.

They remain at sea for between three and eight years and return to the same water body in which they were born, to spawn and die.

Sea herring are a different species that remain at sea their whole life.

''That leads us to believe there is something going on out in the ocean,'' said Michael Hendricks, a fisheries biologist with the State College of Pennsylvania and chairman of the river herring and shad technical committee for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

''We can't explain the drop in adult returnees, unless there is a source of undocumented mortality at sea,'' Hendricks said.

Cavanaugh, and others, point to a greatly expanded sea herring fishery that has brought large midwater trawl-fishing vessels into inshore areas catching abundant stocks of sea herring that are different from river herring in that they don't migrate inshore.

River herring and sea herring look a lot alike and they both can school in the same offshore waters.

Hendricks' committee has asked the Atlantic States Marine Fishers Commission to get the National Marine Fisheries Service and the New England and Mid-Atlantic fishery management councils to look into whether river herring are being caught along with sea herring.

NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center spokesperson Teri Frady said her agency hasn't received any specific request yet to monitor river herring catches in the sea herring fishery but that all unintended catch is reported on their sampling trips with herring fishermen.

Those samples revealed that less than 1 percent of the sea herring catch included river herring, said Michael Armstrong, a scientist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. But with 181 million pounds of herring caught in 2004, that means about 1.8 million pounds of that catch could have been river herring.

In addition, Armstrong said, if a school of river herring heading back to their spawning grounds is caught, that population could be wiped out.

''The human factor is always pretty high up there,'' said John Hay, author of ''The Run,'' a book about the Brewster herring run that is considered a classic of nature writing.

Herring Run Easement Hinkley's Pond Dam