Half Of Spawning Herring Blocked By Existing CNR Dike, Research Shows
Try swimming through this! The CNR dike and tide gates keep roughly half of the migrating river herring from reaching their upstream destination, leaving them vulnerable to predators.
Only about half of spawning river herring are able to make it past the Chequessett Neck Road dike structure, according to recent research by Derek Alcott, PhD. The time window when tidal flow is slow enough for fish migration through the dike's tide gates is very short. As a result, herring that are unable to make it through the tide gates accumulate below the dike, providing an easy target for striped bass and other predatory fish.
Approximately 20,000 herring enter the ponds annually, an estimate that is based on a ten-year average of yearly volunteer herring counts. The annual sample census is based exclusively on daytime counts. However, Alcott observed that about half of the run occurs at night, when fish were not counted. Thus, the total number of fish reaching the ponds may be closer to 40,000. You can watch Dr. Alcott's presentation here.
Initial Data Reconfirm Fecal Coliform Threat to Shellfish
Figure shows the numbered stations where fecal coliform samples are collected, and the location of hard-clam aquaculture and oyster beds.
Friends of Herring River is resurveying fecal coliform concentrations between Egg Island and High Toss Road this spring and summer. Most of this once-productive shellfish habitat has been closed to harvest since the mid-1980s, when the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries increased surveillance and observed fecal coliform bacteria above the concentration limit for shellfish waters.
A Cape Cod National Seashore study conducted in 2005 showed that chronically high bacteria concentrations just above and below the Chequessett Neck Road were likely caused by the dike's reduction of normal estuarine tidal flushing and salinity. In a normally functioning tidal marsh system, fecal bacteria shed by wild birds and mammals are greatly diluted by clean oceanic water twice each day. In addition, the survival time of these bacteria, normally found in the gut of warm-blooded animals, is cut short by the high salinity of seawater.
The idea of updating the study surfaced at a recent meeting of the Herring River Stakeholders Group. Funding is being provided by the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration.
FHR Board member Dr. John Portnoy, who conducted the original 2005 field and laboratory study, is volunteering to collect water samples through this spring and summer. Samples are being analyzed by the Barnstable County lab using the same methods that the Seashore used in 2005. Dr. Portnoy will summarize the 2020 results, and compare them to the 2005 data, in a report this fall.
Results so far, based on samples collected in May and July, are similar to those from 2005. Bacteria concentrations between the Griffin Island landing below the dike to High Toss Road are at least as high this year as 15 years ago, which is to be expected given that the physical environment of tidal restriction and low salinity has not changed.
Two New Grants Fuel
Herring River Restoration Project
The Herring River Restoration Project was recently awarded $860,000 in state and federal grants that will help to bring the project closer to fruition.
The Baker-Polito Administration recently announced a $500,000 award for the Project, to be administered by the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game's Division of Ecological Restoration.
"This grant represents the Commonwealth's continued commitment to this important project. The Herring River Restoration Project is the single most important environmental project on the Outer Cape and possibly in the Commonwealth," said State Representative Sarah Peake. "These funds will allow the work to continue so that this choked estuary can be restored and approximately 6 miles of waterway will once again flow freely. I want to thank the Baker-Polito Administration for their ongoing support of this project."
"The Herring River Estuary Restoration Project is climate resiliency policy in action. The threat of disruption due to the climate emergency is very real and our response needs to include tangible investment that takes substantive action to buttress the impact of rising sea level and worsening storms," said State Senator Julian Cyr. "I'm grateful to the Department of Ecological Restoration for its willingness to mobilize real dollars and work with local partners to protect our coasts and make this project a reality."
The NOAA Restoration Center recently awarded the project $360,000 "to support the return of tidal flow to the Herring River estuary, the largest estuary on outer Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Restoration of the 1,000-acre wetland will occur over a period of time that allows for gradual rebuilding of the salt marsh."
Wellfleet Conservation Trust Receives Major Gift of Herring River Overlook
Aerial view of the Herring River Overlook Property (Courtesy of Wellfleet Conservation Trust)
Jacqualyn Fouse of Wellfleet has donated the largest gift of upland ever to the Wellfleet Conservation Trust (WCT). Ms. Fouse gave WCT 18.5 acres of native pine forest overlooking the Herring River estuary above the Chequessett Neck Road dike. In announcing the gift, WCT President Dennis (Denny) O'Connell said, "The Trust is extremely grateful to Ms. Fouse for making this incredible conservation success happen. Jackie stepped up in a magnificent way. We honor Jackie for her commitment to conservation. It is exciting to think that this beautiful land has never been developed, and never will be."
Ms. Fouse had recently acquired the land from the Chequessett Club. The land was surplus to Chequessett's current and planned golf course renovations.
Congratulations to Wellfleet Conservation Trust--and thank you to Ms. Fouse--for saving this remarkable property.