This year seems to be bringing good news for some of the PIE-Rivers river herring runs. The migration is still underway and the monitoring results have yet to be tallied, but herring returns on the Ipswich and the Essex already appear to be better than they have been in years. This apparent strong fish return has also allowed volunteers from Trout Unlimited Nor’east (NETU) to document the success of their efforts to improve river herring access past the Willowdale Dam on the Ipswich River.
The MA Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) is working with the dam owners to replace the existing, deteriorating ladder with a new, better designed ladder by 2017. In the meantime, NETU has been making the best out of the existing ladder through ingenuity and perseverance. In 2015, NETU designed a set of custom-made boards to allow the crumbling fish ladder at the Willowdale Dam to be adjusted to improve fish passage and better attract migrating herring.
This year they saw their efforts pay off. On May 7th, NETU members adjusted the ladder according to guidance from DMF biologists and saw almost immediate results. Within 20 minutes of the adjustments they began to see herring darting up through the upper chambers of the ladder and into the river above. They reported 30-40 herring in just a short time. Very impressive numbers for a river that only saw 282 herring migrate past the Ipswich Mills Dam (4 miles downstream) the year before.
It is gratifying to see efforts like this meet with success. It is also timely that the improved passage coincided with a relatively good herring return. Hopefully these returning fish will spawn successfully and seed a good population of river herring to return as adults in four years. By then we hope they will be returning to a new fish ladder and better access to historic spawning locations farther up in the watershed.