Where are the Herring?

The Cape Cod Chronicle reported over the weekend that the herring runs haven’t started yet, and people are worried.

The runs in Harwich and Chatham are all but devoid of the silvery baitfish, as they have been around the state for the last eight years. Chatham Herring Warden Donald St. Pierre checks the run at Ryder’s Cove three times each day, and Tuesday morning, he saw only a few dozen fish. “It’s not a lot. I haven’t seen any schools,” he said.

In the past, schools of 500 to 600 fish could be seen climbing the fish ladder in the evening or early morning, “but I haven’t seen any this year,” St. Pierre said. Some say the precipitous dropoff is the result of subtle changes around the spawning grounds; others say it’s a simple case of overfishing. But in either case, it spells trouble for the entire marine food chain, not to mention those who depend on it.

Ouch – this is bad. Many of us had hoped that the closure of the river herring (alewife) runs to fishing last season would provide a quick turnaround. It’s beginning to look like that isn’t going to happen. The Chronicle article goes on:

In a single trip, pair trawlers can land a million pounds of herring. The captains target Atlantic herring, but because river herring often school with them, large numbers of river herring are also caught. Massachusetts and three other states have strict prohibitions on the possession of river herring, so when a pair trawl’s haul contains large numbers of alewives and blueback, they are either pumped overboard as dead bycatch, or landed in a state with friendlier river herring laws as an “incidental catch.”

Harwich Natural Resources Officer Thomas Leach said in one trip the pair trawlers are capable of hauling the equivalent of all the fish to go up the town’s herring run last year.

Great, so most of a run’s annual return can get swept up offshore before it ever sees the land. Then on top of it, the fishermen have to run to another state to sell our fish (to get around the laws on by catch in MA).

David Churbuck has another great post on the herring run here, along with a video. Be sure to read his post from last year on the subject as well, which he links in his post. Here’s a point not to miss:

I stopped by the run on Route 131 this afternoon on my way to Logan. There was a few kids waving nets at fish that weren’t there. Indeed, with the usual harbingers in full force — dandelions and forsythia — I expected to see some alewives making their anadromous way into Mashpee-Wakeby Pond on their way inland on the Mashpee River from Popponesset Bay and Nantucket Sound beyond.

There will be fish, but I fear we’re in for a much longer recovery than any of us had hoped.

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