Herring population sees big boost this year

May 16, 2014

As the herring spawning season winds down on the Mattapoisett River, a local group says the fish population continues to rise from an all-time low seen 10 years ago.

Earlier this month, the Rochester-based Alewives Anonymous reported that its electric counter recorded 53,000 herring this year – a 31,387 increase compared to last year. The herring, also known as alewives, make their way up the river to Snipatuit Pond.

“This year has been really exceptional,” said Alewives Anonymous President Art Benner. “Those numbers increased over 100 percent compared to last year. We can’t pinpoint an exact reason why that’s the case, but we’re certainly happy about it.”

The herring population continues to rise after a steep decline between 2000 and 2004, Benner said.

Fourteen years ago, 130,000 herring were counted, but in 2004 that number had dropped to 5,000.

The cause for the decrease is unknown. Benner noted the rebound may be in part due to a ban on fishing for herring that has been in effect for nine years now.

“In areas where herring are being established fisherman are asked to stay away from those areas,” Benner said. “That could help. I guess the rest is up to Mother Nature.”

Also, restrictions have been placed on commercial fisherman regarding herring, Benner said.

The new number represents a spike in the population from the past few years when the population count was 21,613 and 28,477 in 2013 and 2012, respectively.

“We don’t know why it dropped 25 percent between those years, but it did,” Benner said. “The increase we see now is based on something that happened three or four years ago. That’s how long it takes for them to mature and return to spawn.”

Alewives Anonymous also has a counter installed on the Sippican River at Leonard’s Pond. So far, no herring have been counted this year. The 2013 count yielded 14 fish. Though Benner said those fish were likely not herring. The last count at Leonard’s Pond was taken in 2006.

Another counter at Hathway’s Pond operated by the Buzzards Bay Coalition didn’t record any herring either.

To boost the population in the Sippican River, Benner said Alewives Anonymous has asked the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fishers to stock herring in the pond next year.

He said an application has been sent to the agency. In the meantime the group – whose motto is “The Herring Helpers” – will continue to root for the fish.

“We keep our fingers crossed that next year will be another good year,” he said. “Maybe the population will return to what we last saw 14 years ago.”