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Astounding Increase in Herring Numbers Thanks to New “Fishways” on the Acushnet River, MA

In 2007, we helped to install two fishways on the Acushnet River in Massachusetts. Since then, there has been an astounding 1,140% increase in migrating herring able to access prime spawning grounds, according to data collected by the state.

These “nature-like” fishways are stone structures that allow herring to better navigate past two dams on the river. Fish now have much better access to habitat along the Acushnet River, which runs 8.5 miles from the spawning areas of the New Bedford Reservoir into New Bedford Harbor and empties into Buzzards Bay. This means more opportunities for herring to grow, thrive, and spawn.

Herring are caught commercially and are also important prey fish for other commercial and recreational fish species, such as cod. But, due to very low numbers, there is currently a moratorium on the take of river herring from Massachusetts waters.

Between the 1940s and the 1970s, electrical parts manufacturers discharged wastes containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and toxic metals into the harbor, resulting in high levels of contamination. NOAA worked with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Department of the Interior to fund the design and construction of these fishways. They are part of a restoration plan developed through our Damage Assessment Remediation and Restoration Program in response to decades of industrial pollution in New Bedford Harbor. So far, 34 projects—including these fishways—have been completed to restore natural resources that were injured or lost due to the contamination. Read more on the case and the latest restoration updates.

This spring, scientists are hoping to see even bigger runs of herring on the Acushnet. Want to see them in person? The third and fourth weeks of April are expected to be peak herring migration. Check out this viewing guide for more information.

Posted April 8, 2013

Sawmill Dam before construction
Sawmill Dam after construction