Spring is here and early spring harbingers can be as frustrating as they are hopeful. The cheerful crocus top that optimistically appears one day can be buried in a layer of snow the next. A seventy degree day can easily be followed by three days in the forties. I tend not to fully commit to the season until I see my first river herring. For most of Massachusetts, with the exception of the Cape and the Islands, that’s now - although the Cape Cod author John Hay was fond of searching for forerunners in his beloved Stony Brook (Brewster) in March.
If you are at the right spot, river herring (there are two species of river herring: alewife and blueback) are easy to identify and at times schools of fish moving upstream can roil the water in enthusiastic spurts that can take you by complete surprise. River herring tend to move on bright sunny days when the water temperature edges over 50 degrees although some runs are famous for their nocturnal nature such as the Coonamessett River in Falmouth.
According to Mike Armstrong head of the Anadromous Fisheries Program at Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) river herring numbers seem to be on the rebound, after a period of historically low run totals. DMF just published a technical report on river herring that is available on line.
If you go out to witness the run, check in with your local watershed association to see if there is an organized count going on – as data on fish returns are extremely useful and population assessments assist conservation and restoration efforts such as dam removals and fish ladder repairs.