Native Species Return to Spawning Grounds After 200 Years
Alewife and blueback herring in Massachusetts are returning to their native spawning grounds after nearly two centuries.
The once-abundant populations of these forage fish reached historical lows in recent years due to habitat degradation, overfishing, and severely reduced access to spawning habitat. But the recent removal of the Tack Factory Dam and the restoration of several miles of ideal spawning habitat, thanks to efforts by the North and South Rivers Watershed Association and the Massachusetts Bays National Estuary Program, have now enabled those fish to access 86 percent of that habitat.
Removal of the Tack Factory Dam on Third Herring Brook, the dividing line between Hanover and Norwell, had been in the works since 2002, and the $420,000 project was funded by a combination of federal and state grants, private foundations, and individual contributions.
The first known dam on this site was built back in 1677 to provide power for milling grain and sawing lumber in a thriving shipbuilding town. In 1834, the dam was rebuilt by the founders of a tack factory that served the shoe industry until the mid-20th century.
This dam, most recently owned by the Cardinal Cushing Centers, was one of four historic obstacles on Third Herring Brook. The YMCA removed one upstream in 2014, and NSRWA has plans to remove Peterson Dam farther upstream. The fourth, Jacobs Pond Dam, will likely not be removed, but a fish ladder may be installed to allow migrating fish to access the 59-acre pond of the same name.
With a common goal of returning fish migration to Third Herring Brook, NOAA Restoration Center partnered with the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration, NSRWA, Conservation Law Foundation, Trout Unlimited, YMCA, and dam owners at the Cardinal Cushing Centers to bring know-how, funding and volunteers together to make a difference, not just for the fish but also for coastal communities, increasing wetland habitat that helps buffer storms and floods and is conducive to the proliferation of popular game fish species that encourage outdoor recreation and attract business and tourism.
There are more than 3,000 dams in Massachusetts, and only 200 of those serve any modern purpose, yet they segment wildlife habitats by making it difficult, or impossible, for fish to move farther upstream to spawn. Removing these old dams restores rivers to their original free-flowing state, opening up much-needed spawning habitat for forage species and helping the recovery of once-bountiful Atlantic fisheries.