HERRING REVIVAL

HERRING REVIVAL

Back in the nineteenth century each year about a third of a million herring swam up the Marstons Mills River to spawn in the Mystic Lakes. This was the official estimate of a potential catch of 600 barrels, each packed with 480 fishes, plus 20 percent escaped to the lakes to create a new generation.

But the creation of cranberry bogs brought the “ruin of the fishery” by 1900, according to the 1920 state survey, making it “worthless”. The report shows a photo of the by-pass from Run Pond all dried up. Arthur Thifault remembers going down to the river in the thirties, and “the herring were so thick you could pick them up with your hand.” The herring will spawn in the river even if they can’t make it up to the ponds.

When the new Route 28 was built in 1931 they buried the old herring run, and provided a tunnel under the highway.

There’s a story that we can’t prove that German prisoners from Camp Edwards did some work on the herring run. We do know that POWs cleared trees after the 1944 hurricane, and set up a sawmill on Route 28. Let us know if you can confirm the story about the herring run.

The first major effort to revive the run was made by Taisto Ranta for the town shortly after the war. He cleared away some of the concrete blockage from Dave Leland’s hydroelectric project, and planted huge boulders along the lower stream to create resting pools for the fish.

In 1978 the town created the public viewing area at the Mill Pond, excavated by John Aalto,with a new concrete fish ladder built by an Orleans contractor. Several dry years prevented the young fry getting out of the pond, and the counts of fish dropped sharply. In 1983 1900 herring were brought from Stony Brook in Brewster to restock the run.

Again, by 1992, the 1300 foot long sluiceway needed reconstruction. The president of the Barnstable Land Trust Lindsey Counsell got a grant from the Mass. Environmental Trust, and found volunteer labor from the Marstons Mills Men’s Club, chiefly Al Baker, Charles Thifault and Bob McCluskey. Digging by hand was slow, encountering big rocks, so they went back to John Aalto for his heavy equipment to dig out the rotted timbers, and replace them.

The run needs constant maintenance, still done by those volunteers of the men’s club, and the town’s natural resource department. But the basic problem is still there. The 1880 by-pass over the hill is artificial; the natural route of migration was up river, through the cranberry bogs.

Since 2006 Kevin Galvin has been doing an annual count. The estimate of the total ranges from 2400 last year to 26,000 in 2008. That’s a far cry from the 360,000 of the 1870s. But everyone is cheering for a big revival. If you’d like helping with the count, call 420-8100. The herring will be running soon after April first.

Barnstable Enterprise 22 April 2011

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