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Many Great Herring Runs on Cape Cod and the Islands

By: Marguerite Wiser

One of the most popular herring runs, Stony Brook in Brewster is enjoyed by Many Great Herring spectators and seagulls alike. Spectators can enjoy the sight of fish navigating sloops and a series of weir-pool fishways built into the stream, avoiding the Lower Mill Pond dam. The stone baffles help fish combat the natural elevation change on their way to 386 acres of headwater ponds upstream. Improvements, including enlarging a culvert in 2010, have aimed to support the population, which has fluctuated in recent years. The Division of Marine Fisheries reported 11,000 fish in 2009. The count rose to 275,000 in 2015 but dropped to 20,000 in 2017.

Off of Depot Street in Harwich, the aptly named Herring River run has benefited from lots of restoration efforts aimed at supporting the river herring population. Set in the Bells Neck Conservation Area, the site features a fish ladder at the West trailhead and is connected to lots of area ponds. In 2015, 250,000 herring were counted in this migration. Along with the herring run, the 250-acre preserve offers three miles of walking trails and great views of a salt marsh. The West trailhead parking lot is closed until mid-June to protect the herring.

Off of depot street in harwichMonument River on the north side of the Cape Cod Canal in Bourne sports one of the largest river herring runs in Massachusetts. The DMF reported 672,000 fish in 2000, up from their count of 91,000 in 1980. Visitors can view this run, and the Monument River fishway from Route 6/28 from the Army Corps of Engineers Station.

Mashpee supports multiple herring runs, including Santuit River/Pond, Quashnet River/Johns Pond, and Mashpee River/Pond. The Santuit River run features a fish ladder to bypass a dam, leading to the wetlands of the Santuit Pond Preserve, the result of a 2013 joint restoration effort between the towns of Barnstable and Mashpee, as well as county, state, and federal agencies. The Quashnet River in Mashpee flows through undeveloped land and abandoned cranberry bogs from Waquoit Bay to Johns Pond. In addition to herring runs, the river supports American Eels and Brook Trout. The Mashpee River/Mashpee Pond run is located on Route 130 next to the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum. It is one of the area’s largest herring runs with 350,000 fish in 2015, and 107,000 fish in 2017.

The Eastham Herring Run on Herring Brook Road is the route of choice for river herring returning to Bridge Pond, Herring Pond, and Great Pond. It can be found between Cole Rd. and Bridge Pond Drive. An improved culvert in 2013 made the route easier for fish: 2,000 passed through in 2016, and 5,000 in 2017.

Wellfleet’s Herring River on Duck Harbor Road leads fish four miles through 1,100 acres of estuary to four ponds. An expanded tidegate increased the numbers from 12,000 in 2012 to 70,000 in 2015. Either walk from Duck Harbor Road or from Duck Harbor Beach to check out this river herring run.

The Coonamessett River in Falmouth was once one of the largest herring runs in New England, with millions of fish using it as a migratory route. Due to dams and other impediments, just 75,000 fish were counted in 2015. The three-mile river has recently undergone a significant restoration effort to support river herring and other species. The project, a collaboration between NOAA and the town of Falmouth, removed dams, turned inactive cranberry bogs back into wetlands, and worked to stabilize the banks of the river while adding public access trails and boardwalks. The project, completed in 2020 completed, reopened 2.2 miles of river, and rebuilt 56 acres of wetland habitat.

Pilgrim Lake in Orleans features a fish ladder dating back to 1865. Located on Herringbrook Road, the ladder helps fish migrate through Pleasant Bay, Little Pleasant Bay, and into Lonnie’s Pond. It is also an eel migration route.

On Martha’s Vineyard the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Natural Resource Department monitors the fish through an underwater herring cam. They’ve noted the fish returning later each season to Aquinnah Herring Creek, Squibnocket and Menemsha Ponds, and in diminished numbers. These declines are attributed to overfishing of herring offshore as well as too much nitrogen and sediment in the ponds.

On Nantucket, the man-made Madaket Ditch linking the Hither Creek to Long Pond, dug by Wampanoags and English settlers in the 1660’s supports a run of alewives and eels. The Nantucket Historical Association notes that before the joint project there were no herring runs on the island.

Additional herring run locations include Red Lily Pond in Barnstable, Red Brook in Bourne, Stillwater Pond in Chatham, Bound Brook and Scargo Lake in Dennis, Mill Creek in Sandwich, Tom Matthews Pond, Baxter Mill, and Long Pond in Yarmouth, and Lover’s Lake in Chatham.

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