All spawning river herring must pass through this narrow Old Kings Highway culvert - about the width of, and usually occupied by, predatory snapping turtles.
The Massachusetts Environmental Trust (MET) has awarded a grant of $38,320 to the Town of Wellfleet for engineering plans to replace undersized and collapsing culverts and road crossings at Old Kings Highway and Schoolhouse Hill Road. All of Herring River's herring must pass through these culverts to reach and reproduce in their freshwater spawning ponds.
Since at least 1909, Herring River's fish run, once the second largest in the State, has been severely stressed by the many man-made restrictions on tidal flow. As most of you know, plans and permitting for replacing the Chequessett Neck Road dike with a bridge are well underway, enabling tidal restoration over nearly 1000 acres of former estuarine salt marsh; however, undersized culverts between the dike and the river herring's only spawning sites, Herring, Higgins, Williams and Gull Ponds, have also long been suspected of depressing the river herring run.
Now newly completed research by Derrick Alcott of the University of Massachusetts has proven just how bad the Chequessett dike and undersized upstream culverts are for migratory fish. By monitoring electronically-tagged fish at all culverts and road crossings over four years, Dr. Alcott has shown that turbulent flow and predation at the dike prevents half of potential spawners from ever entering the river. Derrick has also documented how upstream culverts further stress the run. Many fish spend hours approaching, but failing to pass through, these culverts - with good reason: the long dark tunnels are often populated by large snapping turtles. Though many fish make it through, these delays are an energetic drain and also likely reduce spawning success in warming kettle pond water.
The Town, Cape Cod National Seashore and Friends collaborated to obtain this and two earlier grants to replace these culverts, from the Mass Bays Program and MET, and will continue to collaborate to manage contracts and obtain funding for eventual re-construction. The Massachusetts Environmental Trust (MET), housed within the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), was established in 1988 as part of the Boston Harbor cleanup. MET operates as an independent entity without tax dollars or legislative appropriations and is governed by a board of trustees appointed by the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
MET is funded by the sales of the state's three environmentally themed specialty license plates: the Right Whale and Roseate Terns Plate, the Leaping Brook Trout Plate and the Blackstone Valley Mill Plate. Please support MET through purchases of environmental license plates.
With a little help from Friends
This year's drought conditions pose a challenge for river herring fry
This is the time of year when the last of the 2020 river herring fry are leaving spawning ponds and headed back to the ocean. The fish are only about 1-2 inches long, so they don't need very deep water to swim. However, drought conditions this past spring and summer drained part of the upper Herring River and created a problem for emigrating river herring. In addition, windy, fall, conditions caused sudden deposition of leaves to carpet the river and further impede emigration.
Under direction of Wellfleet's Herring Warden, Dr. Ethan Estey, volunteers Michael Parlante, Curt Smith, John Portnoy, Nick Picariello and Barbara Brennessel gathered their rakes and cleared leaves from the River. Ethan and the volunteers will keep an eye on problematic sections of the River and clear leaves as needed to assure safe passage of the young of the year herring.
Herring River science news notes
Silas Watkins uses quarry tiles used for spat collection in Herring River
Dr. Barbara Brennessel and Dr. John Portnoy, assisted by UMASS student Silas Watkins, completed the first year of a Herring River spat study. Mark Adams of the National Park Service collected elevation data. This three-year study, funded in part by Wellfleet SPAT, is designed as a baseline study to evaluate the potential for oyster settlement after restoration.Quarry tiles were used as spat collecting devices. This technique has been used in a number of similar projects on Atlantic and Pacific coasts, to assess the effects of oyster restoration projects. Silas plans to use and analyze the data more fully in a project that was approved for credit at UMASS. Thanks to Wellfleet SPAT for supporting this effort.
Owen Nichols, Director of Marine Fisheries Research at Center for Coastal Studies, is the 2020 recipient of the Don Palladino Fellowship. Owen initiated a year-round survey of the inshore fish community in Wellfleet Harbor. His work was the first attempt to replicate the famous Curley study of 1972, a study that is long overdue. Congratulations to Owen on receiving the Palladino Fellowship.
John Portnoy repeated a previous study of fecal coliform distribution in the River and estuary. Despite significantly higher concentrations of coliforms in discharging river water above the dike this year, conditions below the dike to Egg Island were similar to those in 2005. This shows how well the harbor's natural tidal mixing and salinity control fecal bacteria, and suggests that tidal restoration will greatly extend this protection to shellfish waters both below and above the new bridge at Chequessett Neck Road.
Post-doctoral candidate Katie Costagna recently joined the Center for Coastal Studies and will be studying sediment transport in the Herring River Estuary. We look forward to hearing more about Katie's work.
Wellfleet Farmers' Market offers local bounty and community spirit
Friends of Herring River hosted an information table at the summer market. Here Board member Dave Koonce explains the Herring River Restoration Project to a market patron.
Congratulations to the Wellfleet Farmers' market for another successful season despite the challenges of social distancing. Friends of Herring River would like to thank the market sponsors for allowing us to host a booth with news about the Herring River Restoration Project, volunteer herring counters and other Friends' activities. The market is a valued community institution and a wonderful forum for sharing community news.
"Mapping the Seafloor & What It Tells Us About the Use of Our Harbor" Presented by Mark Borrelli (Center for Coastal Studies)
"Teaming Up on Shoreline Management Planning for the Outer Cape" Presented by Hillary Lemos (Town of Wellfleet)
Purchase a Reusable Bag and Help Friends of Herring River
Is it time to replenish your supply of reusable bags?
Friends of Herring River has been selected by local Stop & Shop store leadership as the benefiting non-profit in the Community Bag Program this month!
For the month of November, Friends of Herring River will receive a $1 donation from each purchase of the $2.50 reusable Community Bag at the Stop & Shop store located at 24 Route 6A, Orleans MA. If you don't live near Orleans, you can still support us through the Giving Tag portion of the program! Simply visit your local Stop & Shop, purchase the Community Bag and use the Giving Tag attached to the bag to direct the $1 donation to FHR.