by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent
What are your favorite signs of spring? Do you love to hear wood frogs peeping? Or to see colorful tendrils of skunk cabbage emerging from wetlands? Is it the lengthening days and warming temperatures that bring you delight? Or the return of red-winged blackbirds and osprey? How about the running of the herring?
I have to admit, up ‘til a couple years ago, I’d heard plenty about those storied alewife herring — the ones that return from the ocean every spring and swim remarkable distances against the current to their spawning grounds upstream. The ones that were so great in number in the 1600s that the colonists imagined walking upon their backs. The ones that were endangered during the industrial era, impeded by dams, but are rebounding now, as the dams are removed. But I’d never seen them.
Two years ago, that all changed. It began at Thomas Memorial Park in Middleborough, where a friend was volunteering with a herring count. The Nemasket River herring run is robust — one of the largest on the Eastern Seaboard. We stopped by one day to find great hordes of fish below the dam, fighting what seemed like impossibly surging water, step by step up the fish ladder. The next day there were more. I found myself making special trips from Marshfield, sometimes with my generally non-plussed teenager in tow, just to see the fish. (Even the teenager was impressed.) Trust me, folks, this is something worth seeing.
There are plenty of herring viewing spots here on the South Shore. Since their activity is affected by factors such as water temperature and weather, none are a guarantee. It helps to gather some intel in advance, perhaps via social media. (If the herring are running in your neighborhood, please let us know!) See below for a list of places to try. Or better yet, make a weekly commitment and join a team of Herring Count volunteers. Help is needed in our watershed as well as the Jones River, Tidmarsh and Town Brook.
Also be sure to keep up with our 2022 Explore South Shore Challenge. Each week, we suggest a different outdoor activity. This month’s themes include: picking up litter, taking a walk in the rain, identifying an unfamiliar bird, and… viewing a herring run! To help you meet these challenges, every day in April we’ll feature a relevant property on Instagram and Facebook. Post photos from your adventures to Instagram with the hashtag #ExploreSouthShore. Each month we randomly select a winner from the posts to receive a prize package.
Herring Run Pool Park, Weymouth
A tiny park in Jackson Square, at the corner of Water and Commercial Streets, with informational kiosks and up-close views of the fish ladder on Herring Run Brook, part of the Back River watershed. Look for roadside parking nearby.
Stephen Rennie Herring Run Park, Weymouth
Another tiny park in Jackson Square with benches, picnic tables and views of the Herring Run Brook fish ladder. Park next door, at Lovell Field.
Iron Hill Park, Weymouth
A small park at the edge of Whitman’s Pond with an extensive 2-part fish ladder and a viewing platform for the South Shore’s only waterfall. Watch herring make the arduous climb up Herring Run Brook fish ladder to their spawning grounds. Limited on-site parking on Iron Hill Street.
Foundry Pond, Hingham
This property features a pond, a salt marsh, an abandoned quarry, and a fish ladder on the Weir River where in the springtime, you might see herring making their way upstream. These days, very few fish are returning to spawn, but take a chance and you still might see some. Limited on-site parking. Enter from Weir Street or by the Log Road on Kilby Street.
Old Oaken Bucket Pond, Scituate
This pond is one of two reservoirs on the First Herring Brook created by dams. There are fish ladders, but unfortunately, the herring run is rather depleted. NSRWA and the Town of Scituate have been working together to restore the fisheries at these sites, with the hope of ensuring adequate drinking water supply, while also supporting wildlife. Stop by in April or May, and you may see some fish! First Herring Brook is part of the North River watershed. Parking for 3-4 cars, across the street at the Stockbridge Mill.
Indian Head River Fish Ladder, Pembroke and Hanover
It’s hard to miss the fish ladder at Luddam’s Ford Park! The large concrete structure spans the Indian Head River on the Hanover/Pembroke town line. It was constructed with the intention of assisting migratory fish over the dam, but sadly, there is no way to observe how effective this fish ladder is. Some fish do manage to get over it, though! In April and May, look downstream of the dam, and you might see thousands. The Indian Head is a major tributary to the North River. On-site parking off West Elm Street.
Herring Run Park, Pembroke
Stop here in April to see herring making their way up the aptly-named Herring Brook to their spawning grounds at Gorham Mill, Oldham Pond, and Furnace Pond. This is one of your safest bets for seeing fish, as it’s consistently among the top five largest herring runs in Massachusetts! In some places, the brook is only about six inches deep, and a couple of feet wide. Look for silvery-blue (or purplish) fish, about a foot in length. They often gather in large numbers to rest, just before a riffle, before attempting to swim upstream. Herring Brook is a major tributary to the North River. On-site parking on Barker Street.
Veterans Memorial Park, Marshfield
Improving the fish ladder at this small park on the South River is an ongoing concern for NSRWA and the Town of Marshfield, as the herring run here struggles to survive. Two more dams upstream at Chandler Pond and Temple Street (Duxbury) present additional challenges. The Temple Street dam is now slated for removal, so there’s hope that conditions will continue to improve! In the meantime, you can still see the occasional herring making its way through this park’s fish ladder in May and early June. Last year our on-site “fish cam” recorded hundreds of them. Park in the unpaved pull-off adjacent to the park on Plain Street (Route 139).
Stewart-Person Preserve, Kingston
This small but enchanting property within the Jones River watershed features well-tended trails and up-close views of a woodland stream, two mill ponds, plus a historic fish ladder, constructed in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration and restored by the Wildlands Trust in 1981. Stop by and let us know if you see any fish swimming upstream to their spawning grounds at Russell Pond. Limited roadside parking on Sylvia Place Road.
Town Brook Park, Plymouth
This grassy park in historic downtown Plymouth features pond views, scenic paths, a wooden bridge, and a half mile walkway past the historic Plimoth Grist Mill and along the edge of Town Brook to Brewster Gardens. Visit in the spring to see herring swimming upstream. Town Brook is probably the spot where, in colonial times, it was reported that the herring were so numerous, one could “walk across their backs” to the other side of the stream. Ample on-site parking on Spring Lane.
Thomas Memorial Park, Middleborough
Also known as the Middleborough Herring Run, and the Wareham Street Fish Ladder, this small park on the Nemasket River is a perfect spot for viewing the annual herring run. Stop by in mid-to late March and early April to see thousands of alewife herring making their way upstream from Narragansett Bay and the Taunton River to Lake Assawompsett. The Wampanoag word “Nemasket” is generally understood to mean “place where the fish are.” This is one of the largest herring runs on the Eastern Seaboard. Limited on-site parking on Wareham Street.
Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to protecting our waters. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. You will also find 25+ years of Kezia’s Nature columns there. Click here for more information about the 2022 Explore South Shore Challenge. This article is Powered by Planet Subaru: https://www.planetsubaru.com