The herring are coming, the herring are coming! And it's time to count their return to the Shawsheen River.
The local conservation group Shawsheen Greenway is holding its second annual Herring Count starting on April 14, and the group is looking for volunteers to count fish. Volunteers can sign up for 10-minute sessions to count the herring from a pedestrian bridge at 15 Stevens St. There are three, 10-minute morning slots from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., three, mid-day slots from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and three slots from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Members of the Andover Fire Department and the Department of the Public works volunteered to prepare the Herring Observation station in March.
“We are hoping to get nine volunteers per day,” said Steve Golden, president of Shawsheen Greenway. “Participants can register online or simply head down to the footbridge that crosses the river at Marland Place on Stevens Street.”
Historically, river herring including the alewife and blueback herring have spawned in the Shawsheen River, but it has been nearly 200 years since river herring were able to spawn farther upstream due to dams put in place near Haverhill Street and Stevens Street. But it wasn't just the Shawsheen River that's been dammed up. Dams on rivers across the state have had a serious impact on fish populations.
"Their populations are very depleted, mostly because of over-harvest and the dams that we put all over New England,” said Jon Honea, Andover Conservation Commissioner and Emerson College environmental science professor. "We're doing everything we can to replenish their populations, because river herrings are species of concern."
"Direct harvest has been eliminated and managers are working to reduce bycatch — accidental harvest in other fisheries — as well," Honea added. "But with dams blocking access to the vast majority of their historical habitat, recovery will be impossible. That's why there was so much support for adding our dams to the 40 others that have been recently removed in Massachusetts, because there are no other blockages dowstream to the Gulf of Maine and new Shawsheen River herring will help support the fishery there."
Herring in particular are the base of a food chain in jeopardy, and by encouraging the growth of the herring population conservationists hope to help increase cod and other fish populations in the Gulf of Maine.
“We are monitoring their recolonization," Honea said. “Last year, as a result of the efforts of over 200 volunteers, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries estimates that more than 1,500 river herring spawned in the newly opened section of the Shawsheen River.”
Those interested in volunteering can sign up at www.tinyurl.com/shawsheen-herring. Questions can be answered by Honea at email@example.com.
View original article in the Andover Townsman.