Daily times template

Area environmentalists can’t wait to install a new fish ladder by Woburn’s Scalley Dam after a record number of herring splashed their way into Horn Pond and other bodies of water along the Mystic River watershed in 2022.

Earlier this month, officials from the Mass. Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), the agency charged with managing the state’s commercial and recreational fishing grounds, reported that nearly 445,000 river herring passed into the Mystic Lakes by Winchester and Arlington and Horn Pond in Woburn this May and June.

According to DMF officials and representatives from the Mystic River Watershed Association, the local fish counts are particularly impressive given that up until 2018, Alewife and Blueback ocean herring had been blocked for nearly a century from accessing Horn Pond and other area waterways.

'It is remarkable because one might not expect the largest herring population in the state to be one that has to run the urban gauntlet of Boston Harbor and the Amelia Earhart Dam — not to mention the Mystic Lakes Dam — to get to their breeding grounds. Usually the largest runs in Massachusetts are on rivers with relatively unobstructed streams and protected estuaries like the Herring River in Wellfleet on Cape Cod Bay,” explained Daria Clark, a representative from the non-profit Mystic River Watershed Association.

With wildlife and fishery officials estimating that 20,000 herring managed to get into Horn Pond for spawning season via a riprap spillway that circumvents Scalley Dam, the record-setting count was recorded in the area despite disappointing species’ runs in Cape Cod and other locations across the state.

“Indeed, it was a bad year across most of southern New England,” acknowledged Mass. DMF spokesperson Ben Gahagan, who pointed out that Rhode Island and Connecticut officials witnessed drastically reduced counts in 2022.

Both Mass. DMF and Mystic River Watershed Association experts suspect this year’s drought may have had a big effect on the herring runs, as many streams and tributaries dried up after spawning season this spring. It is suspected those conditions prevented juvenile herring from migrating back to the Atlantic Ocean via Boston Harbor during the later summer months.

Regardless of the reasons behind the reduced counts elsewhere, local environmentalists are extremely encouraged by this year’s counts in Woburn. And with city officials going out to bid this spring on an estimated $1 million fish ladder project, this year’s success should just be the beginning.

“The fishway will likely be sited west of Scalley Dam, opposite the existing bypass channel,” a project narrative released by the city in September of 2021 reads. “The design for the site may incorporate a camera and viewing area for the public to view migrating fish, and a bioswale or rain garden at the adjacent parking lot to reduce the discharge of stormwater runoff and associated pollutants into Horn Pond.”

Herring run

For roughly 15 years now, environmentalists have been focusing on adding fish ladders and other waterway improvements in order to facilitate the annual herring run from the Atlantic Ocean to Horn Pond and other area water bodies, such as the Mystic Lakes by Winchester, Medford, and Arlington.

For centuries, the two species of herring native to the area swam up the Mystic River from the Atlantic Ocean to spawn in the lake and ponds, which area situated as far as seven-miles away from their natural salt-water environment.

The herring, which when fully matured can grow to as long as 10-inches long, are considered essential to the survival of various other fish and bird species. Threatened by overfishing, both species have also suffered due to the loss of breeding habitat due to dams and other blockages along New England’s streams and rivers.

Back in 2018, both fish species returned to Woburn’s Horn Pond via a riprap or stone spillway that bypasses Scalley Dam, where water is released into Horn Pond Brook before it eventually makes it way into the Aberjona River. By 2019, as many as 10,000 herring were spotted heading into the pond during the annual run.

With those earlier totals having doubled since, state officials believe the new fish ladder will help thousands more herring reach Horn Pond, as spotters are currently seeing tons of fish stuck at the base of the dam each year.

“Currently the Scalley Dam at Horn Pond mainly blocks fish passage into the lake, although a small percentage of fish who arrive make it up a small cascading stream that goes around the dam when water levels are high enough,” Mystic River Watershed Association officials explained in a prepared statement.

Back in 2021, state and federal officials announced $3.9 million in Industri-Plex superfund site settlement funding would be released for the Scalley Damn fish bypass and related improvements to wetlands areas in the city.

Both the fish damn project and improvements to the city’s Shaker Glen Conservation Area were listed as the top local priorities in an environmental assessment and restoration plan that analyzed ways to mitigate some of the damage caused by the release of toxic chemicals and pollutants on a 200-plus acre swatch of land between the Woburn Mall in East Woburn and Presidential Way in North Woburn.

In the event that any of that money be left over after the projects are completed — or should the cost of those undertakings be offset by other state and federal grants — the Industri-Plex trustees will allocate up to $110,000 to help restore riverbanks and fish habitats along Horn Pond Brook.

All of the final projects identified in the study were initially suggested by municipal leaders and local citizens during a series of public hearings and gatherings held between the summer of 2018 and March of 2021.

Fish ladder victories

Based on estimates prepared by state and federal officials back in 2021, Woburn officials have predicted the new fishway will eventually allow as many as 500,000 herring to enter Horn Pond.

For well over a decade, environmentalists have been focusing on adding fish ladders and other waterway improvements in order to facilitate the annual herring run from the Atlantic Ocean to Horn Pond and other area water bodies, such as the Mystic Lakes by Winchester, Medford, and Arlington.

For centuries, the two species of herring native to the area swam up the Mystic River from the Atlantic Ocean to spawn in the lake and ponds, which is situated as far as seven-miles away from their natural salt-water environment.

The herring, which when fully matured can grow to as long as 10-inches long, are considered essential to the survival of various other fish and bird species. However, for about a century, the herring were cut-off from Horn Pond and the Mystic Lakes in Winchester due to manmade dams and other obstacles.

Two years ago, Woburn residents were able to see herring return to the waters for the first time in 100 years after a fish ladder was added. Since that time, as many as 10,000 herring have been counted heading into the pond during the annual run.

According to the Mystic River Watershed Association, a non-profit dedicated to protecting regional waterways that include the Aberjona River, since 2012, activists have observed herring numbers in the tributaries increase from 199,000 too 630,000 in 2017.

Back in 2012, environmentalists across the region celebrated after similar fish ladders were installed by the Mystic Lakes Dam in Medford. In 2016, yet another bypass was installed in Winchester at the Center Falls Dam.

Between April in June of 2012 alone, according to volunteers working on behalf of state fisheries’ officials, an estimated 200,000 herring passed through the fish ladder in Medford. Three years later, those counts had doubled, while in 2019, an estimated 780,000 herring jumped their way up stream via the bypass.

“This is a huge success story: the single simple fish ladder at Mystic Lakes doubled — and even tripled — a significant wildlife population. For a sense of scale: 500,000 of these foot-long fish end-to-end would stretch 100 miles!” Mystic River Watershed Association officials recently boasted.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.