Herring Counts Continued in 2020 Despite COVID-19
The pandemic presented a unique challenge to our herring counts and other volunteer opportunities this year – how to train volunteers and have them safely conduct monitoring. We handled the training issue by providing online video training and also relying on our experienced counters who already knew the protocol. We didn’t use shared notebooks at each site but instead continued with individual datasheets as well as an app, Epicollect, that allowed data entry at the site.
Despite these potential issues or perhaps because people were looking for a reason to get outside, the NSRWA recruited a record 147 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 150 hours in 10-minute intervals counting over 4,352 fish passing our counting locations. Although this was less than previous years, this is the first year that we have had fish at every single count location, and we saw some promising improvements at sites where dams have been recently removed, Bound Brook (Cohasset and Scituate) and Third Herring Brook (Norwell and Hanover).
First Herring Brook – Scituate
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. Last year we counted 18 fish, but this year the count was back down to 5 – remember these are raw count numbers and not the population – where there is 1 or 18 fish there are many more. NSRWA is working closely with the Town of Scituate to continue to provide flows for herring and instream habitat and is working on expanding potential habitat by improving access to the Reservoir upstream.
Third Herring Brook – Norwell and Hanover
Herring counts were conducted at two sites in the Third Herring Brook this year, the third year of counting after the removal of the Tack Factory Dam. Volunteers counted at both the River Street and Broadway culvert, as well as at the Tack Factory Dam removal site. Volunteers saw 345 herring pass the site this year, 67% more than last year’s count of 206. One interesting note is that volunteers saw far fewer fish at the River/Broadway St culvert than usual (only around 200 total). We are glad to see herring moving up into the Third Herring Brook system, especially since we are hoping to remove the last dam on the brook, Peterson Pond Dam behind the Hanover Mall, this fall. We hope to follow that accomplishment with the pursuit of fish passage into Jacob’s Pond.
Bound Brook – Scituate and Cohasset
The most exciting news this year was the sighting of river herring at Bound Brook for the first time after the Hunters Pond dam was removed three years ago. As with many of our dam removal projects in systems that had extirpated herring populations, the numbers were low (4). Still, there’s hope for more coming into the system, especially since herring passing the Hunters Pond site have passage via two fish ladders to a large amount of habitat in Aaron River Reservoir and renewed interest in reinvigorating this herring population.
Herring Brook – Pembroke
Herring Brook is home to our most robust herring population, and volunteers counted 3,860 herring passing the ladder there, fewer than in the past four years. However, more fish were seen downstream of the ladder than ever before. The first sighting at Herring Brook was March 28th, counts then peaked on April 8th (253 in 10 minutes), and the final sighting was May 9th. We only recently submitted the data to MassDMF, so we do not know how the total population estimate compares to previous years yet, but this run has been one of the largest in the state in past years.
South River – Marshfield
Volunteers at the South River did not see many herring at the Veterans Memorial Park fish ladder this year, only 13, down from the counts of the past three years (2017-2019) but still more than 2014-2016. The fish ladder is very sensitive to changes in flow and can be hard to manage. This year we installed a camera at the ladder to allow for additional remote counting, but we had some difficulties with calibrating the images. We hope to improve the camera for next year. We are also working with the Town of Marshfield and Mass. Division of Ecological Restoration to investigate the removal or alteration of the dam, which would allow freer 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 2021!
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.