2019 Was a Promising Year for Herring Counts

The NSRWA recruited 69 citizen scientist volunteers this year to count river herring migrating into First Herring Brook in Scituate, Third Herring Brook in Norwell and Hanover, Herring Brook in Pembroke, Bound Brook in Scituate, and the South River in Marshfield. From April 1st to June 15th volunteers spent over 160 hours in 10-minute intervals counting over 11,231 fish passing our counting locations, almost equivalent to the number of fish seen last year.

Counts at First Herring Brook in Scituate have been hanging in the low numbers since flow was restored to the Old Oaken Bucket fish ladder in 2012, but this year had the highest count since that point with 18 fish passing the ladder. NSRWA is working closely with the Town of Scituate to continue to provide flows for herring and instream habitat however, and is working to expand potential habitat by improving access to the Reservoir.

Herring counts were conducted at two sites in the Third Herring Brook this year, the second year of counting after the removal of the Tack Factory Dam. Volunteers counted at the usual location of River Street and Broadway, as well as at the Tack Factory Dam removal site. Volunteers saw 184 river herring pass the Tack Factory site, a huge jump from last year’s count of 12. We have always seen thousands of fish downstream at Broadway and River Street so it is exciting to see indications of an increase farther upstream.

Herring Brook is certainly our most robust population, reaching 10,984 herring observed by counters – the highest year ever. The first sighting at Herring Brook was April 1st, counts then peaked on April 14th (465 in 10 minutes), and the final sighting was May 6. Herring Brook is the only location where substantial counts and the presence of a fish ladder allow a provisional population estimate to be made. This estimate is still being verified with the Division of Marine Fisheries, but the electronic counter at Herring Brook at the same location as our volunteer counts recorded ~482,000 fish, making this run one of the largest on the South Shore.

Volunteers at the South River saw herring mostly downstream of the Veterans Memorial Park fish ladder, beginning April 14th, peaking May 8th, and concluding June 4th. This marks the third year of herring passage in the double digits, although 2019’s count of 44 was lower than 2018 (66) and 2017 (57). The fish ladder is very sensitive to changes in flow and can be hard to manage. We are working with the Town of Marshfield and Mass. Division of Ecological Restoration to investigate removal of the dam, which would allow free passage of herring and eliminate the burden of flow management in the ladder.

Thank you to all of our volunteers – we hope you will join us in 2020!

“It’s about more than just me going fishing or my friends going fishing ad catching a few trout. It’s about the whole interconnected spiderweb of life that runs down to the ocean.”
~ Warren Winders, Trout Unlimited member

Herring populations are declining in coastal streams on the South Shore. This is a problem because herring are a source of food for striped bass, bluefish, osprey, herons and other coastal species. Collaborating with MassBays National Estuary Program, NSRWA volunteers study the health of our river herring populations. By monitoring fish passage, our volunteers can help river herring swim freely and flourish.

If you want to join your friends and neighbors as a river herring volunteer, here’s what you need to know:

• Counting takes place from the end of March through the end of May.
• Counting takes place between 7 am and 7 pm.
• Counting is done 7 days a week, 6 to 9 times a day, at multiple different locations.

Counting takes about 10 minutes, ideally several times a week, during a specific time period, at one of these sites:

• South River at Veteran’s Memorial Park fish ladder in Marshfield
• First Herring Brook at the Old Oaken Bucket fish ladder in Scituate
• Herring Brook at Upper Mill Pond fish ladder in Pembroke
• Third Herring Brook at Tiffany Road (former Tack Factory Dam) and River Street/Broadway
• Bound Brook at Mordecai Lincoln Road in North Scituate