Alewives Anonymous, Inc.
Founded in November of 1984, Alewives Anonymous encourages, promotes and supports efforts to preserve and increase the alewife fishery resources in the Mattapoisett River and Sippican River in the towns of Rochester, Marion, and Mattapoisett Massachusetts.
THE GOALS OF ALEWIVES ANONYMOUS, INC. ARE:
- To educate the general public as to the importance of the alewife fishery resources and as to general environmental conditions of the Mattapoisett River and Sippican River.
- To support scientific research directed towards preserving and increasing the alewife and other anadromous fish resources. (Anadromous fish are fish which migrate up rivers from the ocean to spawn in fresh water.)
- To receive contributions & grants, and to raise money by the sale of goods; all contributions, income and proceeds to be applied to the exempt purposes of this Organization as described in the Internal Revenue Code Sec. 501(c)(3) as now in force or hereafter amended.
AWARDS AND ACHIEVEMENTS
In recognition of the efforts made toward achieving these goals, on April 29,1999, at the Annual Meeting of The Coalition for Buzzards Bay (name changed to Buzzards Bay Coalition, May 2011), Alewives Anonymous, Inc. was presented the Guardian Award by Mark Rasmussn, Executive Director.
On Earth Day, April 22, 1993, Paul Keough, Acting Regional Administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 1, presented the Environmental Merit Award to Alewives Anonymous, Inc. founder/organizer and then President William Watling, “in recognition of Demonstrated Commitment and Significant Contributions to the Environment”.
Sportsmen, fishermen and environmentally concerned individuals and organizations are invited to become members to support the on-going activities by means of annual dues ($10.00) and/or directly participating in the various projects. The Board of Directors meets monthly (except July and August) and interested persons are invited to attend. The Annual Meeting is held on the last Sunday in April and features a quahog chowder supper, a recap of the past years activities, election of Board of Directors members and usually a program presented by a guest speaker.
Alewives Anonymous, Inc. has spear-headed projects such as the dredging of a section on the Mattapoisett River from the outflow of Snipatuit Pond to Snipatuit Road, replacing the culverts at Snipatuit Road, and the construction of a permanent fish ladder at the Herring Weir in Mattapoisett.
The organization has, over the years (and continues to do so) cleared the Mattapoisett and Sippican Rivers of blow downs, brush, debris and obstructions, utilizing volunteer help to do so with equipment (canoes, power chain saws, brush cutters, hedge trimmers, winches and various hand tools) provided by the President Arthur Benner extends an invitation to all sports fishermen and others to assist the organization in maintaining open passage in the two rivers. This will ease the herring’s journey, thereby increasing the number of fish able to make it to the spawning grounds in the two ponds.
THE VITAL ROLE HERRING PLAY IN COASTAL AND MARINE ECOSYSTEMS
Alewives, or herring, are a main food fish for many oceanic fish, whales and shore birds such as the endangered rosette terns. Lobster-men utilize herring as bait in their lobster pots when available. Herring, being smoked or salted, were a staple of the early settlers of our region. Current day human consumption of river herring is mainly the roe (eggs).
The towns of Rochester, Marion and Mattapoisett control and share the alewife fishery resource from the Mattapoisett River and Sippican River jointly through the Tri-Town River Committee. Policy is established at an annual meeting with the Herring Inspectors from the three towns. This is one of only a few herring fisheries in Massachusetts that is shared by multiple towns.
There are two fish ladders located in the Mattapoisett River, which flows from Rochester to Mattapoisett Harbor/Buzzards Bay.
The first one the herring encounter is in Mattapoisett at the Herring Weir, Route 6 and River Road. This a Denil type ladder of concrete construction that facilitates the herring’s transition from the ocean salt water into the fresh water of the river, an elevation difference of about four feet.
The other ladder is in Rochester, approximately twelve miles upstream from the first ladder, at the headwaters of the Mattapoisett River where the herring reach their destination and make the final transition from the river into Snipatuit Pond (710 +/- acres) where they spawn. This ladder is a traditional concrete weir and pool fish way constructed by Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries for the herring to climb the two to three feet in elevation difference between the river and pond.
There are also two fish ladders on the Sippican River, which flows from Rochester to Marion, joining the Weweantic River before reaching Buzzards Bay.
The first one that the herring encounter is in Rochester at Hathaway’s Pond dam (a 22 acre +/- man made pond), a former mill site, approximately three and a half miles from the tidal waters of the Weweantic River. The ladder in use for many years that predates the 1960’s was a traditional weir and pool fish way for the herring to climb the four feet elevation difference between the river and pond, the final thirty feet being an enclosed ‘tunnel’ under a road way. This ladder was replaced in 2013 through a project led by property owner Beaton, Inc. and designed by E A Engineering with a ten foot section of aluminum Alaskan steep pass ladder provided by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. The ladder, installed in one of the dam’s spillways, was operational for the Spring migration of herring starting in 2014.
The second fish ladder, also in Rochester, is approximately two more miles upstream where the herring reach their destination and make the final transition from the Sippican River into Leonard’s Pond (a 54 acre +/- man made pond) where they spawn. The original wooden Denil ladder built in 1993 by Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries using materials donated by Alewives Anonymous, Inc. was replaced in 2010 through a project led by the Town of Rochester, designed by Tibbetts Engineering Corp. and installed by Marine Tech Inc. with two ten foot sections of aluminum Alaskan steep pass ladder, also provided by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. After several changes and adjustments, the ladder was operational for the Spring migration of herring starting in 2013. It facilitates the herring’s transition from the river into the pond, an elevation difference of about four feet.
Both rivers have a herring population comprised of the alewives and the blue back species, (collectively referred to as river herring). The majority of herring in each of these rivers is alewives. The alewives spawn in the quiet waters of the ponds where as the blue backs spawn in the moving waters of the rivers.
Under ideal conditions, river herring have a life expectancy of ten to twelve years. They mature in three to four years and are then ready to make the migration to fresh water to spawn. River herring (unlike salmon that die after returning to their birth river and spawn) return to the ocean after spawning and have the potential to repeat the cycle six or eight times during their life.
An adult herring is ten to twelve inches long. A female will lay approximately 50,000 to 100,000 eggs. Only two or three of these will mature to adults.
In 1883, the weirs on the Mattapoisett River produced an income of $3,214.00 while the school costs were $3,516.00 at that time. Wouldn’t it be great if the sale of herring could support our current school costs?
Historical data from the Marion Town Reports provides the following harvest data.
1906 – 626,000 fish were caught
1907 – 465,000 fish were caught
The quantity of fish harvested has declined steadily since the early part of the twentieth century.
Alewives Anonymous, Inc. has two Smith-Root model 1100 series electronic fish counters to tally the number of herring entering Snipatuit Pond and Leonard’s Pond.
Over the years, due to constant cleaning of the rivers and limiting the number of fish caught at the Mattapoisett Herring Weir, the number of herring entering the spawning areas had increased from 40,000 in 1989, the first year of electronic counting, to over 130,000 in 2000. The limits in place prior to the 2006 Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries moratorium were (1) not permitting any taking of herring at the Mattapoisett Herring Weir until at least 50,000 fish had entered Snipatuit Pond to spawn, (2) and then limiting the catch to 50 bushels per season and (3) catching on Saturdays only.
In 1996 Alewives Anonymous established an objective of 500,000 herring entering Snipatuit Pond to spawn within eight years (by 2004). It appeared that objective might be realized if the increases in the herring population continued as they were through 2000. Unfortunately, that goal was not reach as a series of steep declines occurred after 2000. A review of the herring migrations year by year follows.
2000. The number of herring reaching the Snipatuit Pond spawning area as of the close of the year 2000’s migration was over 130,000. This represented an increase of almost 23,000 over the 1999 migration and 90,000 since the electronic counting was initiated.
2001. Adverse conditions during the 2001 season resulted in incomplete counts (just under 77,000) but visual observation of the fish migration left us feeling optimistic that the numbers of herring completing the migration were similar to 2000.
2002. The 2002 counting season was very discouraging. Weather and water conditions were ideal and the counting equipment appeared to be functioning as expected, however the count for the year, just under 50,000, was considerably lower than the previous year and about 80,000 lower than 2000.
On three different occasions during the 2002 herring season, live herring from the Mattapoisett River were transported to Leonard’s Pond in an effort to increase the population in the Sippican River run. Just under nine hundred herring were relocated to Leonard’s Pond. The relocated adults were expected to return to the Mattapoisett River the following year and the herring hatched in Leonard’s Pond should return to the Sippican River. It takes three or four years before a current year’s spawn will mature and return to their spawning area as adults. As the Sippican River has been cleared from Leonard’s Pond in Rochester to County Road in Marion, we expect a better passage for the herring in the future.
2003. The 2003 herring season count from the Mattapoisett River run of 24,795 was very disheartening. It was less than one half of the previous year’s count of 49,984. The 2003 total was down by more than eighty percent as compared to the highest count recorded (year 2000). It was also significantly lower than the first year of electronic counting; 1989, count was 39,936.
We feel that the electronic counter had functioned properly and other conditions for counting, both in 2002 and 2003, were ideal. Visual observations for both years also confirm the low volume of fish. No explanations have been forthcoming for the decreasing herring counts for the Mattapoisett River run and other herring runs that also experienced decreases.
2004. The 2004 electronic count from the Mattapoisett River run was 2,645 herring. Due to high water conditions for part of the counting season, one of the bays at the outflow of Snipatuit Pond was open permitting the herring to enter the pond without going through the counter tube. We estimated that some 2,000 to 2,500 herring were not counted. Combining the actual count with the estimate of herring that bypassed the counter, results in a total of approximately 5,000. The electronic counter at the Mattapoisett Herring Weir recorded 5,385 herring. As we had seen in the past three years, this was again a significant decrease from the prior year’s count. The 2004 count was barely twenty percent of the 2003 count and was down by more that ninety-five percent as compared to the highest count recorded (year 2000) of 30,296.
Other herring runs in the area had also seen decreases but none to the degree we have seen in the Mattapoisett River. No herring were caught at the Mattapoisett Weir in 2004 as per the policy set at the Annual Herring Inspectors meetings.
2005. The 2005 counting results were a bit more positive than any of the previous several years. After a later than usual install due to cold weather and ice, conditions were ideal for operation of the electronic counter for the remainder of the counting season. We have estimated that approximately 1,500 to 1,600 herring entered Snipatuit Pond before the counter was installed. The 2005 electronic count of herring from the Mattapoisett River at Snipatuit Pond was 6,417 herring and when combined with the estimate, results in a total of about 8,000 herring. The 2005 count was approximately three thousand more herring than the prior years count. It was the first year of an increase in the last four years.
No herring were caught at the Mattapoisett Weir in 2005 as per the policy set at the Annual Herring Inspectors meeting.
2006. The 2006 count of herring from the Mattapoisett River was 6,258. This total includes a few days that were estimated due to error or obstructions in the counting tube resulting in unrealistic counts for those days. The 2006 count was approximately 1,750 fewer herring than the 2005 estimated count of 8,000. The count was also within approximately 200 fish of the count recorded by the Tri-Town Herring Committee’s electronic counter at the Herring Weir in Mattapoisett. No herring were caught at the Mattapoisett Weir in 2006.
In past years, Alewives Anonymous, Inc. has also recorded the herring counts on the Sippican River at Leonard’s Pond, but because of changing conditions of the dam and fish ladder and the high water conditions for most of Spring, the electronic counter was not installed there in 2003, 2004 or 2005.
The dam on the Sippican River at Leonard’s Pond was replaced in December of 2005. The counter was installed the next Spring. The count of herring from the Sippican River was 89 for 2006. Visually, many more fish were observed than were counted. The replacement of the dam changed the setup of the counter and often high water levels permitted the fish to swim over the counting tube instead of having to pass through it.
In response to the decreasing numbers of herring since 2001 in the rivers of Massachusetts, the Division of Marine Fisheries enacted a three year moratorium on the taking or possession of herring. Many of the other east coast states also enacted a similar moratorium.
2007. The 2007 herring season count on the Mattapoisett River showed little change from the previous year. The year’s electronic count of herring was 6,011. Though there were periods of time with very high water, counting conditions remained ideal and it was not necessary to include any estimate counts this year. The 2007 count is approximately 250 fewer herring than the prior years estimated count of 6,258.
An electronic counter was not setup on the Sippican River at Leonard’s Pond for 2007 due to the high water. Also, the replacement of the dam changed the setup for the installation and additional alterations to the counter setup will be required for accurate counting.
2007 was the second year of a three year ban on the catching or possession of herring instituted by Massachusetts and our neighboring States. We’re hopeful that this will help the herring populations to recover but it will take a few years before results are seen.
2008. The 2008 electronic count of herring from the Mattapoisett River was 9,987. Counting conditions were ideal for the majority of the season but due to a failure of the counter it was necessary to include several days of estimate counts while a replacement counter was set up. The 2008 count was an increase of almost 4,000 herring over the 2007 count of 6,011. The increase of approximately 66 percent was viewed as being very positive.
An electronic counter was not set up on the Sippican River at Leonard’s Pond during 2008 because it was used to replace the failed counter for the Mattapoisett River at Snipatuit Pond.
2009. The 2009 electronic count of herring from the Mattapoisett River was 10,356. For the most part, counting conditions were ideal throughout this season and estimate counts were not needed. The 2009 count was an increase of approximately 370 herring over the 2008 count of 9,987. Though only a small increase, it was positive.
An electronic counter was not set up on the Sippican River at Leonard’s Pond during 2009 because it was used to replace the failed counter for the Mattapoisett River at Snipatuit Pond.
2008 was the last year of a three year ban on catching or possession of herring instituted by Massachusetts and our neighboring States in 2006. Massachusetts extended the moratorium for another three years through 2011.
2010. The 2010 electronic count of herring from the Mattapoisett River was 10,319. Counting conditions were less than ideal through the end of April for this season. Two major rain events delayed the installation of the counter and due to the high level of water in Snipatuit Pond it was necessary to leave the one of the two sluice ways open and unrestricted until the beginning of May. Herring were already migrating into the pond before the counter was installed and it is highly probable that many entered the pond through the open side during those five or six weeks thus not being counted. We have estimated the number of herring not passing through the counter at 2,000. Combining the estimate with the actual count we used 12,319 for the 2010 total. The 2010 count was an increase of approximately 2,000 herring over the 2009 count of 10,356.
An electronic counter was not set up on the Sippican River at Leonard’s Pond this year. Plans are underway to replace the existing ladder and improve the ladder approach for the herring.
2010 was the fifth year of a moratorium on catching or possession of herring instituted by Massachusetts in 2006. The moratorium will continue through the 2011 herring season.
2011. The 2011electronic count of herring from the Mattapoisett River was 12,857. Counting conditions were ideal throughout the Spring. The 2011 count is just a little more than 500 fish above the 2010 total of 12,319. The increase is positive and continues the trend of an increasing herring population since 2007.
An electronic counter was not set up on the Sippican River at Leonard’s Pond for 2011. A new aluminum Alaskan steep pass ladder (provided by Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries) has been installed but requires adjustment to flow an adequate amount of water and modification to accommodate a counter.
2012. The 2012 electronic count of herring in the Mattapoisett River was 28,447. The 2012 count is 15,590 fish more than the 2011 total of 12,857, a 121% increase. Some exceptional conditions must have occurred three or four years ago and the survival rate of the fry was excellent. Thank you Mother Nature. Even though water levels in March and April were very low, counting conditions were ideal for the 2012 season. Though still very low in comparison to the highest count recorded in 2000 (130,296), the increase is positive and continues the trend of an increasing herring population since 2007.
An electronic counter was not set up on the Sippican River at Leonard’s Pond this year. A new aluminum Alaskan steep pass ladder has been installed and the Mass. Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) designed and fabricated a framework to support the counting tunnel. The ladder requires adjustment to flow an adequate amount of water and this will be done after the Fall cranberry harvest when Leonard’s Pond level can be lowered to do the work.
The moratorium of the state wide ban on the taking or possession of river herring in Massachusetts was extended into 2012 by DMF. In the seven years of the moratorium, the herring population in the Mattapoisett River has increased by almost 500%. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Committee, River Herring Amendment #2 provides that all runs are to be closed to fishing January 1, 2012, unless a plan for the sustainability of the fishery has been filed and approved. Massachusetts has not done this. This is a state wide plan, not river by river. It appears that it will be a long time before the taking of river herring in Massachusetts will be allowed. That should further help the herring populations to rebuild.
2013. The 2013 electronic count of herring in the Mattapoisett River was 21,613. That is about 7,000 fish less than the 2012 total of 28,447. Though down approximately 25%, the count is still a lot better than the past several years. Counting conditions were ideal this Spring.
Sippican River update. After an absence of a counter on the Sippican River at Leonard’s Pond since 2006, one was installed this year, though a few weeks later than desirable. A new aluminum Alaskan steep pass ladder was installed and adjustments were made to lower the ladder to flow an adequate amount of water should the pond level drop. The ladder now appears to be ideal for fish passage. The low count of only 14 fish up stream and 38 down would indicate these were pond/river fish using the ladder. It is unlikely that any herring went into Leonard’s Pond. The Buzzards Bay Coalition installed a counter at Hathaway’s Pond in the old existing ladder and recorded some counts but it had to be removed as the ladder is too small to accommodate the counter and still provide adequate water flow. A new Alaskan steep pass ladder installation will be completed at the Hathaway’s Pond dam later this summer and will be ready for the 2014 herring migration.
The moratorium of the state wide ban on the taking or possession of river herring in Massachusetts was extended into 2013 by DMF.
2014. The 2014 electronic count of herring in the Mattapoisett River was 55,429. That is almost 34,000 more fish than the 2013 total of 21,613 that was down about 25% from 2012. This year’s increase represents a 156% increase over last year. Counting conditions were ideal this Spring, the counter appears to have performed without errors and visually we witnessed a lot of fish in the river at many different times leading us to believe the number is accurate.
This year’s count of fish in the Sippican River was 31. The recently installed ladder at Leonard’s Pond appeared to function ideally for fish passage. The low count of only 31 fish would indicate these were pond/river fish using the ladder. It is unlikely that any herring went into Leonard’s Pond. A new Alaskan steep pass ladder installation was completed at the Hathaway’s Pond dam last summer and appeared to be operating very well for this year’s herring migration. The Buzzards Bay Coalition installed and operated a counter there recording only a very low count of six fish over a seven week period in April through May.
The moratorium of the state wide ban on the taking or possession of river herring in Massachusetts was extended into 2014 by DMF.
The President of Alewives Anonymous, Inc. is:
Arthur F. Benner
Feel free to contact President Benner for further information here:
Alewives Anonymous, Inc.
Post Office Box 42,
Rochester, MA, 02770