CapeCodHistory.us home page
Wellfleet link page
Cape nature page
posted Oct 2005
Cape Cods-related excerpts from
A Report upon the Alewife Fisheries of Massachusetts, 1920. David L. Belding
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts
ALEWIFE FISHERIES OF MASSACHUSETTS
Division of Fisheries and Game Department of Conservation
Sir: — I herewith submit a report upon the history, present condition and possibility of development of the alewife fishery of Massachusetts. This investigation was made in 1912, 1913, 1917, 1919 and 1920 under the provisions of chapter 178, Acts of 1902. The survey of 1912 and 1913 was done by Mr. Roy S. Corwin, at that time Assistant Biologist.
DAVID L. BELDING,
Spawning Grounds. — In Massachusetts the fresh-water ponds which form the headwaters of the coastal streams furnish the spawning grounds. Two classes are found: (1) the ordinary tributary tidal stream, with one or more fresh-water ponds at its source at a variable distance from the ocean, and (2) the fresh or brackish shore pond (Fig. 1) separated from the salt water by a narrow sand beach through which there is a shifting natural opening or an artificial channel. The ponds of Martha's Vineyard belong to the latter type, and the alewives enter directly from the salt water through temporary openings.
Spawning Season. — The spawning season varies slightly from year to year, the approach of the alewives to the shores being regulated chiefly by temperature. According to the United States Bureau of Fisheries, records the alewife is seen in the Potomac River by March 4, but in New Brunswick does not enter the St. John River until May 10, although present in the Bay of Fundy in April. The first fish appear earlier in certain streams. In Massachusetts the greater part of the run occurs between the middle of April and the first of June. In some streams the first fish come as early as the last week in March, and in others are still running by the last of June. In 1920 the run started as follows: March 20, Mattapoisett River; April 1, Agawam River, Herring River, Wellfleet, Bass River; April 10, Herring River, Harwich; April 15, Mashpee River; May 1, Monument River and Stony Brook, Brewster.
In early days nearly every coast town possessed one or more natural streams upon which fisheries were soon established under town management, and in a few cases by private individuals. Unless the fishery was completely ruined, its operation was conducted in one or a combination of four ways: (1) free; (2) town-operated; (3) leased; and (4) privately owned.
Free. — The free alewife fisheries are the poorest producers, in some cases because the fishery is valueless, in others because the fishery is free. As the name implies, it gives any inhabitant of the town the privilege of catching alewives subject only to general regulations in regard to time, manner and place of capture. In most cases these regulations either do not exist or are not enforced. Usually the town is completely indifferent to the welfare of the fishery, and in maintaining it, follows the lines of least resistance.
Town-operated. — In a few cases the fishery is operated directly by the town, and the upkeep of the stream as well as the cost of catching is carried by the town as a straight business venture. Our observations indicate that this method has given uniformly poor results because of the inability of the town officials to run a commercial fishery as economically as a private business.
Leased. — Most fisheries are leased, i.e., sold to the highest bidder at public auction. As a rule, this method of handling the fishery when properly regulated is more successful than the, first two, but careless town management favors the exploitation of the fishery by the purchaser, and an unscrupulous or ignorant purchaser can readily ruin any alewife stream under the elastic regulations ordinarily in force. Carefully regulated, the lease system may become of great benefit to the alewife fishery. All fisheries are not leased under the same regulations. Nearly every town has special rules regarding the length of lease, the days for catching, and the privileges granted to townspeople for obtaining alewives. The method of sale differs, the price depending upon the success of the fishery and the expense of its operation. The fisheries may be leased as follows: —
(1) Long Lease.—Mill River, Sandwich, furnishes an exam-
ple of the long lease of a natural alewife stream by legislative act. During this nominally private ownership, even less care has been taken of the fishery than if it had remained the property of the town. Leasing natural fisheries for too long periods without specific regulations works against their best interests.
(2) One-year Lease. — The popular and almost universal practice of leasing from year to year prevails in most towns, the privilege being sold annually at town meeting. This method has proved a most pernicious influence in the decline of many fisheries by encouraging their exploitation by the temporary purchaser.
(3) One to Five Year Lease. — Certain towns give longer leases, which, however, never exceed five years. The three-year period is next in popularity to the one-year lease, but rarely two, and occasionally five, are given. As a rule, these longer leases form breaks in a succession of single-year leases, but of late they have become more common, and several towns have permanently lengthened their one-year leases to the decided improvement of the fishery. In our opinion a five-year period should be the minimum time, if the future welfare of the fishery is to be considered. The two best alewife fisheries in Massachusetts — Herring River, Harwich, and Agawam River — have had the five-year system; the former since 1884, when it succeeded the three-year period, and the latter 1914 to 1919. In some instances the term of lease is determined at town meeting; in others the power to determine the time is conferred upon the herring committee or selectmen.
(4) Percentage Lease. — Temporarily fisheries have been sold on a percentage basis, the purchaser furnishing to the town a certain percentage of the gross catch, after complying with certain stipulations regarding the sale to townspeople.
(5) Cranberry Leases. — In a few streams — e.g., Fresh Brook, Plymouth — the fishery is purchased by the owners of cranberry bogs along its course, to enable them to control the water without outside interference.
(6) Non-operating Leases. — Occasionally fisheries are leased and not operated, the alewives being given free passage to the ponds for the purpose of developing the fishery, thus establishing a closed season.
Methods of Catching.
The method of catching alewives are comparatively simple, but there are numerous modifications to meet the particular needs and diversified natural conditions of the individual streams. Originally all fisheries were free to the public, and every householder was given the time-honored privilege of obtaining alewives in whatever manner and at whatever times he desired. Later, when the towns first exercised their control over the alewife fisheries, certain places were designated by law as locations where alewives could be taken, and fishing was forbidden elsewhere on the streams. The catching places have been developed by building locks and pens in which the alewives on stated days are seined or dipped as they pass up stream.
Implements. — Dip or scoop nets, traps or weirs, and seines are the principle implements for catching alewives. The fish are taken with dip nets in narrow parts of the stream, in specially constructed places (Fig. 4) and from seines or traps in which they have been caught. The scoop or dip net has a circular opening from 1 to 2 feet in diameter, and a handle from 5 to 7 feet in length. It is used to dip out alewives at the catching places. Along the Atlantic coast alewives are taken in pound nets, gill nets, seines, fyke nets, traps and dip nets.
All sorts of netting contrivances ranging from small fyke nets to miniature fish traps are set in the streams. At the entrance of Town Brook, Plymouth, an almost perfect fish weir except for absence of a leader is used. The size of the stream in general regulates the size of the trap. Before the alewives reach the rivers in the spring they are taken in the salt-water traps with other fish, sometimes in appreciable numbers, much to the disgust of the holders of the fishing privileges on the streams. If these traps are situated at or near the outlets of alewife streams in such manner as to obstruct the run, their presence constitutes a menace to the fishery.
On Taunton and North rivers, seining privileges are sold by the various towns to the highest bidder, under various stipulations as to size of seines, location and time of operating. On the Taunton River thirteen seining privileges are divided among the riparian towns, but in most cases permission is given the purchaser to operate at any point on the river. In recent years the value of these privileges has seriously declined, and at present several are not in use. An important part of the voluminous legislation on Taunton River alewife fishery is concerned with restrictions as to the maximum length of seine, time of purchase, selection of locations, and establishment of prohibited areas.
This method of capture employs the common drag seine, which is played out from the stern of a skiff with one end attached to the shore. After the seine has been set, the skiff is swung back to shore, which explains the legal restriction that the length of the seine should not reach across the stream. The seine is then pulled upon the shore, and the fish removed.
Screen. — The simplest method of catching is to place a screen across the main stream to prevent the passage of the alewives, and to dip them when they congregate in sufficient numbers. During the days on which fishing is not permitted the screen is lifted, and the fish are allowed a free run to the spawning grounds.
Regulation of Water Flow. — An ingenious means of regulating the water flow at the catching station on the Agawam River prevents the alewives from ascending above a certain point on the catching days. The greater volume of water passes over the south dam, forming the main stream, and the catching pool, where the fish are taken with dip nets. From this stream a fishway, part of which is underground, after a course of 100 yards, leads into the mill pond. At the dam the gates are so arranged that the men operating the fishery can regulate the flow of water to fill the catching pool to the proper height during the fishing days. Just below the fish house, which is located over the stream, is a gate which is regulated by the herring committee. This gate when down forms a temporary dam which raises the height of the water in the catching pool so that the fish can ascend a 2-foot rise from the catching basin into a second pool connected with the fishway. When the gate is removed during the fishing days the water in the pool is lowered to such an extent that there is an insurmountable fall of 3 to 3 1/2 feet at the upper end of the catching pool.
False Channel. — At Herring River, Wellfleet, on catching days, the alewives run into a false channel, the main stream being closed by a gate. The false channel, a deep horseshoe bend shut off from the main stream at its upper and lower ends by a screen and gate, is closed three days a week to give the alewives free passage to the pond for spawning, and opened for catching the remaining four.
Weirs. — Primitive brush weirs were used by the early colonists. Twine traps in the form of fykes and weirs are now used at times.
Stone Driveways. — In Parker River the alewives were formerly taken by the simple procedure of constructing a V-shaped
wall of rocks in the stream, the apex pointing up stream. At the apex was placed a set net, 18 to 20 feet long, into which the fish were driven from the stream below.
Fish House Passageway.— On Monument River, Bournedale, the fish are taken as they pass through a narrow runway beneath the fish house, the catcher dipping them directly into barrels or upon the wooden floor.
Catching Basins. — At Herring River, Harwich, the alewives are allowed to collect in a large basin or pool, the upper end of which is closed by a gate to prevent their passage up stream. From this pool the fish are removed by seining.
Seine Trap. — At Edgartown Great Pond and Mattakessett Creeks alewives are caught, as they enter the pond, in a trap set at night in Cracketuxet Cove (Fig. 3). Two seines are used to separate the runs of the two previous nights. The fish which have been in the trap longest are taken first, and are hauled in seines upon the beach. Wagons are backed into the water, and the fish transferred from the seines with dip nets. Provision is made for a free passage during non-fishing days, and for the exit of the alewives which have spawned by bending to one side an end of the seine trap.
In the brackish water ponds and large rivers the fish are usually taken by seining (Fig. 3). At Hummock Pond, Nantucket, the curious procedure is followed of raking the fish upon the shore with wooden rakes as they crowd into the opening through the beach between the pond and the ocean. In Maddequet Ditch, Nantucket, a large dip net 4 feet in diameter and 8 to 9 feet long, subconical in shape, is placed longitudinally in the stream, and raised by means of a large handle.
Since exact statistics are impossible to obtain because certain operators feel that business secrets will be revealed if they report the amount of their catch, our production figures are but approximately correct. However, more accurate figures, have been obtained from the annual sale of fishing privileges, as ordinarily these are a matter of town record.
Comparing recent with past years only two natural streams have maintained a high standard of production, — Agawam River, Wareham, and Herring River, Harwich. Among the artificial fisheries, Mattakessett Creeks and Tisbury Great Pond have yielded excellent returns. Two of the best natural streams — Monument River and Mattapoisett River — of late years have given inferior production, and require more careful regulation by their respective towns.
History and Legislation.
Early colonial records refer to the alewife as providing food for the first inhabitants of New England, and from the time when Samoset first taught the Pilgrims the method of fertilizing corn fields, this fish has had a considerable influence on the welfare of the country. Then the supply of fish was greatly in excess of the needs of the population, and every inhabitant who was a householder had the right of free fishing and fowling in any great ponds, bays, coves and rivers, as far as the sea ebbed and flowed. Higginson's "New Englands Plantation" mentions, in 1630, "Also here is abundance of herring" in the waters of New England, and Thomas Morton in his "New English Canaan," in 1632, remarks, "of herring there is a great store, fat and fair, and to my mind as good as any I have seen, and these may be preserved and made a good commodity at the Canaries."
Generally the alewife fisheries have passed through three periods, — development, state of maximum productivity and decline. From humble beginnings the fisheries became important public assets fostered by the shore towns. The period of transient prosperity was ordinarily followed by a decline in the natural supply, particularly on the more thickly settled streams, which was noticed as early as 1815. According to the records of The Colonial Society of Massachusetts: —
In the year 1730, the inhabitants (Plymouth) were ordered not to take more than four barrels each, a large individual supply indeed, compared with the present period (1815), when it is difficult for a householder to obtain two hundred alewives, seldom so many.
In spite of the attention given to the alewife fishery, this decline was permitted to extend until, in but few instances the old prosperous conditions have been maintained.
Our forefathers were not slow to recognize the importance of the alewife, and for its protection early passed many legislative acts, which best illustrate the history of the fishery. For the most part these laws were local and especially adapted to the needs of the individual fisheries. The first fishery law, known as the Plymouth Colony Fish Law, was enacted in
1623 for the protection of the alewife. In 1682 further legislation was enacted, and in 1709 and 1727 an act was passed and amended for the prevention of all obstructions to the passage of fish in rivers, except mill dams. Failure to enforce these acts and the increasing number of dams, resulted in 1741 in an act which provided that a sufficient passageway be made through or around each dam from the first day of April to the last day of May annually, or in certain rivers for a period not exceeding sixty days as designated; that the owners of the dams be required to give a sufficient water flow for the young to pass down; and that the cost of installing fishways in dams erected before 1709 be borne by the towns, and the future maintenance by the owner of the dam. One or more persons were to be appointed at the annual town meeting to see that the passageways were opened according to law, and to regulate the taking of fish. Persons were forbidden to catch alewives in other manner than prescribed by the town, under a penalty of ten shillings for each offence.
In 1743 an additional act provided that upon the petition of a dam owner the court should appoint a committee of three disinterested persons to inspect the dam, determine exactly what kind of a fishway was necessary, and what regulations should be enforced concerning it. Their decision when accepted by the court was adjudged the lawful rule for that stream, although aggrieved parties had the right of appeal, and could ask a second inspection by the court. In 1745 the mill owners by means of political pressure, obtained a provision abolishing fishways, provided the fish did not pass up stream in sufficient numbers to be of greater benefit than the damage from loss of water power due to the opening of the dam. The acceptance of a report of a committee appointed by the courts freed the owner of the dam from all obligations to make or keep open any passageway. It was also stipulated that no dam owner should be liable to any penalty for not keeping open a passageway through his dam in rivers or streams where no salmon, shad or alewives were found.
Subsequent legislation for the most part has been purely local in character, and extremely voluminous. Even at the present day the alewife streams are carrying the burden of much
antiquated legislation, e.g., the Taunton River fishery, which is operating under a law passed in 1855. The non-enforcement or subsequent modification of these laws in the interests of private individuals brought about the decline of the alewife fishery. Sufficiently good legislation was enacted for nearly every alewife stream, which, if properly enforced, would have preserved the fishery.
Since the provisions of the numerous laws enacted for the individual fisheries have many points in common, a summary of a few of the more important will suffice.
Establishment. — The first legislative act established or created a particular fishery by law, and placed the necessary responsibility upon the town, individual or corporation controlling the same.
Obstructions. — The general principle that alewives should have free passage up to the spawning grounds has been the keystone of all legislation. Various efforts have been made to provide all dams with suitable passageways for the fish.
(1) During a period of sixty days, usually between definite dates, which varied as to the locality, stream and time of run, an open passageway was required.
(2) Ordinarily any passageway sufficient for the fish was deemed satisfactory, and the owner could either bring the stream down to its natural level by removing the flashboards, or construct a fishway of sufficient size to permit the passage of the fish. In a few cases a passageway of definite size and flow of water was required, e.g., Beaver Brook, a tributary of the Merrimack, where a fishway not less than 6 feet wide, in which the water should not be less than 6 inches deep, was ordered.
(3) The cost of installment and maintenance was borne generally by the dam owner, although sometimes by the town.
(4) In some cases provision was made for a passageway for the young alewives returning to salt water in the fall.
(5) Penalties of varying severity for obstructing the passage of fish were enacted.
(6) Power was given to the selectmen or herring committee to remove all obstructions of any nature at the expense either of the owner or of the town.
Herring Committee. — The early laws provided for the ap-
pointment or election of one or more fish wardens for their enforcement. As time passed, the duties of the fish wardens were taken over by a herring committee elected at the annual town meeting. These men, varying in number from 3 to 9, had complete charge of the fishery, the town having previously designated the manner in which the fishery should be disposed of. They determined the time, place and manner of taking the fish, operated the fishery if run by the town, leased it to the highest bidder, drafted regulations, posted notices, and removed all obstructions, having the right to cross the property of any person in the performance of their duties. When several towns were concerned with one fishery, a joint committee comprising members from each of the towns performed these duties. Some received a suitable salary, others a nominal sum,' and still others no compensation whatever for their labors. Their powers were great, and the success or failure of the fishery invariably depended upon their judgment. Failure to appoint fish wardens or a committee sometimes rendered the town liable to a fine. Special wardens and inspectors for the enforcement of the laws were appointed by the committee from time to time.
Catching Days. — Usually there were three fishing days a week, although the period for catching alewives varied from one to six days. All sorts of combinations have been devised, ordinarily the first part of the week being devoted to catching. The days have been grouped, alternated and variously separated. Every day in the week except Sunday has been used. In some instances, catching days in several towns on one stream have so overlapped as to cause an almost continuous open season. The starting time was either sunrise, sunset or midnight.
Season. — The season for catching alewives ranged from the middle of March to the middle of June, usually being about sixty days, from April 1 to June 1. The capture of alewives out of season was prohibited by law, with numerous penalties. At sundry times closed seasons were declared by certain towns, and fishing prohibited for a brief period of one to three years, for the purpose of replenishing the fishery.
Locality. — Fishing was ordinarily limited to certain localities, which were selected by the herring committee, and at which the catching stations were located. Seining permits gave
a wider range, but were usually restricted to a definite station. Fishing was prohibited in other parts of the stream except those designated by the committee. Special provision was made to prevent fishing within a certain distance of any fishway, or on the large rivers near the entrance of tributary streams up which alewives ran. Not infrequently, no regulations were made governing the fishing which was carried on at any point.
Seining. — Permits were sold for seining on the larger streams, which required both the selection of a definite station and certain specifications regarding the maximum length of net, regulated usually in respect to the width of the stream.
Indians. — In a few instances, as at Bournedale and Mashpee, special provision was made for the Indians. At the Bournedale fishery the head of every family of the Herring Pond Indians was entitled to one barrel free.
Pollution. — In a very few cases specific reference was made to the prohibition of trade waste pollution.
Penalties. — All sorts of fines and penalties are to be found, ranging from a few dollars up to a maximum of fifty, with forfeiture of apparatus. Numerous provisions for obtaining this fine, and its subsequent disposal to county, individual informant or otherwise, were included. The different infringements of the laws called forth a variety of penalties.
Public Rights and Sale. — Originally all the fisheries were free to the public. With the few exceptions of artificially created private fisheries, and the Weymouth fishery, which was sold by the town to the Weymouth Iron Company, the fishery was operated or leased by the town. The public rights were satisfied by the requirement that a certain number of fish be supplied each household head, or that each householder, by seasonable application at the place of capture within a specified time, had the privilege of purchasing several hundred alewives at the price of 16 to 25 cents per hundred. At Weymouth the purchaser of the fishery, if unable to furnish alewives at this price, was subject to a fine of $5. Provision was sometimes made for supplying the needy poor and widows, free of charge, with a certain number of alewives. In the early days, when the fisheries were operated by the town for the direct benefit of the townspeople, men were appointed to catch the alewives
and sell them at a moderate sum. Provisions for the sale of the privilege were made at town meeting or at such time and under such regulations as the herring committee might decide, and the money accruing therefrom was turned into the town treasury.
In 1854 an alewife fishery was established in Scusset River, Sandwich, a small stream entering Cape Cod Bay, but apparently did not exist for long. The Cape Cod Canal now passes along the course of this stream.
Mill River flows a distance of 1 1/2 miles from the Shawme Ponds to Cape Cod Bay, passing through the village of Sandwich. At the upper pond is an 8-foot dam, and an impassable fishway about 30 feet in length. At the lower pond is situated a dam equipped with a dilapidated fishway, which was installed about 1904.
In 1904 this fishery was leased by legislative act to Nye and Howland for ten years. For several years the Gloucester Fish Company had charge of the stream, and later it was sold to Mr. A. K. Crocker, who has taken but little care of the fishery. The best catch ever taken was 35 barrels. Of late, only a few alewives have run up the stream. In 1919 a legislative act restored this fishery to the public.
To re-establish this fishery alewives must have free access to the upper pond, the only suitable spawning ground, since the natural conditions of the lower pond are less favorable, and it contains numerous pickerel. To accomplish this purpose, fishways must be installed at the two dams. If controlled by the town, a five-year lease is recommended, provided that proper regulations are made for the maintenance of fishways, and that a goodly number of fish are permitted to reach the ponds for spawning. By stocking the Upper Shawme Pond with spawning alewives, and maintaining a closed season for a period of five years after the installation of these fishways, the re-establishment of the fishery will be hastened.
Mill Creek or Stony Brook, Brewster, flows from three mill ponds into Cape Cod Bay. Although formerly utilized for power, its principal use at present is the flooding of cranberry
bogs. The catching place is located at West Brewster, where the stream is directed through two boarded passages about 1 1/2 feet wide. Near the fish house are the ruins of an old mill dam.
The fishery has been at a low ebb for several years. Previous to 1903 the alewife fishery was in the hands of a fish committee elected by the town, which appointed a catcher whose duty it was to furnish each family with one-eighth of a barrel of alewives. The catch between 1900 and 1910 averaged about 225 barrels, and between 1911 and 1920, 200 barrels. In 1915 it was leased for a period of five years for $500.
The fishery enjoys several natural advantages, as the ponds furnish an excellent place for spawning, and the cranberry bogs do not offer any serious obstructions. As long as the passageway up to the pond is kept clear, five-year leases given, and the proper allotment of alewives allowed to reach the mill ponds, there is no reason why the fishery should not continue as productive as in former days.
Bee's River or Herring River.
This stream connects Herring Pond, Eastham, with Cape Cod Bay. Alewives have been caught, but no regular fishery has ever been established, since the exposed outlet on the tidal flats prevents its ever becoming of any importance.
Great Pond (Eastham).
Great Pond, Eastham, is connected with Cape Cod Bay through a smaller pond by a narrow artificial ditch frequently overgrown with vegetation. At the beach is located a passageway lined with timber to high water.
The fishery, which was established in 1879 by opening Great Pond to Cape Cod Bay, has been conducted under a system of five-year leases with no restrictions as to the manner of taking the fish. The average catch is 20 barrels per year. The stream possesses unsuitable conditions for an alewife fishery, as the presence of extensive tidal flats at the outlet is not conducive to the entrance of alewives. In order to make the fishery even a moderate success, it will be necessary to
construct a better outlet, and clear the ditch of obstructions, the maintenance of which would require annual expenditures. A more satisfactory fishery might be instituted by connecting Great Pond with an arm of Nauset Harbor, where the tides would not interfere with the outlet.
Herring River (Wellfleet).
Herring River rises in a chain of ponds in the eastern part of the town of Wellfleet, and after a winding 4-mile course between the sand hills, finally empties into Wellfleet Bay. Originally its source was Herring and Higgins ponds, but in 1893 a sluiceway was cut between Higgins and Gull ponds, which increased the spawning grounds some 90 acres.
The partial obstructions in 1920 were the abundant growth of wild rice, the passageway under the King's Highway, and the large dike at the outlet, which at low tide allows the fresh water to escape into the harbor through an automatic gate. In spite of the swift current during the spring, when the gate is open, the alewives do not seem to experience much trouble in passing through the narrow sluiceway.
The fishery, located at Bound Brook Island, is sold each year at public auction to the highest bidder, although in 1911 the stream was leased for the first time for a three-year period. The Freeman family established the fishery by digging a ditch to Herring Pond, and subsequently, about 1700, gave it to the town of Wellfleet. The years 1888 to 1898 were most lucrative, and in 1893 the high price of $1,035 was paid for the fishery, as compared with $25 in 1911.
This decline has been largely due to the one-year lease system, which has placed a premium upon its exploitation, and to lack of interest on the part of the town officials. There are no real obstructions present to prevent the alewives having free access to excellent spawning grounds, provided the gate in the dike is tended regularly. What the fishery needs most is careful supervision, freedom from town politics, and a greater number of alewives permitted to reach the spawning grounds.
Sparrow Pond (Orleans).
A small stream now connects Sparrow Pond, Orleans, with Pleasant Bay. The original natural outlet by which alewives once ascended to the pond was closed by a private company in order to make them enter by way of an artificial ditch connecting the pond with Pleasant Bay. After the disbanding of this company the fishery received no attention until 1918, when it was taken over by the town of Orleans.
In order to develop a public fishery, as conditions existed in 1919, the stream will require widening, clearing of debris, more gradual slope, and regulation of the water flow during the runs of both adult and young fish.
Chathamport Alewife Brook.
A small brook lined with cranberry bogs connects Smith's Pond and Ryder's Cove. It can never be developed beyond the point of supporting a small private fishery.
Herring River (Harwich).
Herring River originally had its headwaters in Hinckley's Pond, through which it is now connected by an artificial ditch with Long Pond. The stream flows from 5 to 6 miles to Nantucket Sound, and varies from 8 to 15 feet in width. Although formerly used for power, it is now utilized for flooding cranberry bogs. Between North Harwich and Hinckley's Pond there are seven dams connected with cranberry interests. Just above the old catching place at North Harwich there is a concrete dam equipped with an excellent fishway. The fishways on the other obstructing dams are less satisfactory, especially the uppermost, a concrete dam of 6 to 7 feet in height, where the level of the flume is higher than the bed of the stream. Where the fishways are not installed, the cranberry bog owners open the flumes to allow the passage of the alewives. There has been considerable controversy between the cranberry bog owners at the west and east ends of Long Pond over the question of the proper level of the water in Long Pond, which is influenced by the adjustment of the outlet by the Harwich Herring Committee.
Herring River is one of the few streams which show a prosperous fishery as a result of proper care. It is a striking example of the efficiency of the long-term lease, and demonstrates that the existence of cranberry bogs is not incompatible with a successful alewife fishery. In 1912 between 1,200 and 1,300 barrels were taken, — a fair average for the last few years, although in an exceptionally good year as high as 3,700 barrels may be seined in the catching pool below the first fishway. Formerly fisheries were also maintained on the tributaries, Coy Brook and White Pond Brook. As a result of careful town management the fishery has been maintained at a high level, through the constant watchfulness on the part of the local committee and the district deputy of the Division of Fisheries and Game in seeing that no obstructions have been permitted to exist on the stream during the spring run. Its future success depends upon the continued exercise of this care.
Swan Pond (Dennis).
The fishery in Swan Pond River, Dennis, receives but little attention from the town, which permits fishing with dip nets. It has yielded the nominal income of $5 per year, and offers practically no opportunity for development.
Bass River rises in Follin's and Mill ponds, and after a course of 5 miles between the towns of Dennis and Yarmouth empties into Nantucket Sound. The river is tidal as far as Follin's Pond. It receives tributaries from Dinah's, Baker's and Turtle's ponds, and is unobstructed, although formerly there was a dam between Mill Pond and Follin's Pond.
The Bass River fishery has gradually been depleted through exploitation and faulty regulation, although the existing regulations, if observed, should have sufficient influence to safeguard the fishery. Sixteen permits to catch fish on different parts of the stream are sold to inhabitants of Dennis and Yarmouth, with the restriction that the seines must not exceed 200 yards, and that fishing should be conducted only on four days a week, from May 1 to June 16.
The alewife fishery in Bass River has great possibilities, and its natural facilities are such as to enable it to exist in spite of poorly enforced regulations. The only way this fishery may be developed is by preventing overfishing through the enforcement of correct restrictions, and by allowing a larger number of alewives to reach the spawning grounds.
Long Pond and Parker River.
Long Pond, near South Yarmouth Village, is connected with Swan Pond by an unobstructed artificial canal about half a mile long. The outlet from Swan Pond is Parker River, which empties into Nantucket Sound.
About 50 to 100 barrels are obtained annually with seines in Swan Pond. The fishery was established by legislative act as a private enterprise by the Long Pond Fishing Company of Yarmouth, in 1842. Any inhabitant of the town had the privilege of becoming a member of the corporation. Since the fishery is private, it cannot be developed for the benefit of the public.
Centreville River and Nine Mile Pond.
Centreville River in the town of Barnstable is a Y-shaped tidal stream, one arm extending toward Osterville, the other toward Centreville. An artificial brook 1 mile long and 2 to 3 feet wide runs from Nine Mile or Great Pond to Centreville River by way of Long Pond. Dams at Long Pond and at Nine Mile Pond regulate the flow of water. Nine Mile Pond, a shallow body of water not over 15 feet deep, is largely dependent upon rainfall and surface drainage for its water supply. The drawing of water from the pond has caused considerable dissatisfaction among the cottagers, who naturally are in favor of discontinuing the fishery, which is controlled by a company incorporated in 1860. The stream formerly yielded 200 to 300 barrels per year, and between 1908 to 1910 an average of 150 barrels, but since 1910 it has been irregularly operated.
Nine Mile Pond is capable of maintaining a fair fishery. It is a private enterprise, and its future welfare rests entirely in the hands of its owners.
Marston's Mills Herring River.
This stream, 2\ miles in length, has its source in Cotuit Pond, Barnstable, and its outlet into Great Bay, Osterville Harbor. The water, formerly used for mill purposes, is now used for flooding cranberry bogs. Muddy Pond, through which the waters of Cotuit Pond pass, has been increased by flowage so that a considerable area of bog can be flooded. Some years ago an artificial passageway for the alewives around the obstructing dams was dug, but in 1913 no water entered the abandoned ditch (Fig. 7). Along the stream are several cranberry bogs, where the use of the water has necessitated the construction of numerous dams, only one of which seriously prevents the passage of alewives.
The decline of the fishery is best shown by the amount of money which has been paid for the catching privilege. From 1875 to 1877, $55 was received annually; from 1886 to 1890, $15; from 1890 to 1896, $10; and since 1896 nothing. The fishery is not sold at the present time, for the reason that it is worthless.
The owners of the cranberry bogs have built dams and maintained other obstructions without constructing suitable passageways for alewives, although special local laws forbidding this practice were in existence. Owing to lack of encouragement from town officials no one will buy the fishery, which has never yielded enough to guarantee any large expense for its maintenance. It is entirely feasible to restore the fishery if the alewives are allowed free passage to Cotuit Pond, and more interest is taken by the town.
Mashpee River flows from Mashpee Pond to Popponesset Bay, a distance of 4 1/2 miles away. It averages from 4 to 6 feet in width, and is used chiefly for flooding cranberry bogs. Just below Mashpee Pond is a small millpond, the dam of which is equipped with a fishway.
The Mashpee River fishery is peculiar in that it once belonged to an Indian colony. In 1801 and 1803 the town was given the power of regulating the fishery, which has always
been public. Of recent years the annual catch has run from 300 to 500 barrels. Any inhabitant has the right to catch as many as he desires, and the greater part are salted for home consumption. Fishing is allowed after May 1 below Asher's Cartway, and above the road at the millpond on any week day.
The stream is of potential value, and under a properly regulated lease system should produce a good revenue to the town.
Santuit River, sometimes known as Cotuit River, flows from Santuit Pond over a 3-mile course to Popponesset Bay. It varies from 5 to 11 feet in width, is chiefly utilized for flooding cranberry bogs, and is obstructed by several mill dams, fences and debris. All the dams are provided with fishways, theoretically giving an unimpeded passage to the alewives.
In 1913 the fishway at the southern outlet of the pond was in good condition, but submerged beneath the surface of the water. Of the other fishways on the cranberry bogs one was in poor condition, one was raised completely out of the water, and a third was in good repair.
Alewives are reported to run in considerable numbers, although there is no regular fishery. The river is fished, for the most part, by near-by residents, and probably the annual catch has never exceeded 100 barrels. While numerous fish-Ways are in evidence, it is doubtful whether they are at all efficient, and the problem of developing this fishery depends upon the installation and care of suitable fishways, and the clearing of the stream to guarantee the alewives an unobstructed passage; also the several outlets from Santuit Pond should be screened to prevent the destruction of young alewives on the cranberry bogs.
Quashnet River, Mashpee, originally had its source in a swamp one-eighth of a mile east of John's Pond. In order to provide more water for the cranberry bogs, which eventually
lined the whole course of the stream, a ditch was dug to John's Pond.
It is not known exactly when alewives first began to run up the stream. Probably the fish which entered John's Pond via Childs River returned to the ocean by the new route. Owing to the fact that the stream is entirely in the hands of the cranberry bog owners, and the fishery is artificial, further development is impossible.
East Falmouth, Herring River.
In an attempt to establish a herring fishery a ditch was dug from Bourne's Pond to Ashumet Pond in 1863 by a corporation known as the East Falmouth Herring River Company, but the venture proved unsuccessful, as Ashumet Pond was not of a sufficiently high level to insure a flow of water.
Childs River passes from John's. Pond to Waquoit Bay. The stream, 3 to 4 miles long, is now used to flood cranberry bogs, and is obstructed by a number of dams. The outlet of John's Pond is a boarded passageway controlled by flashboards. Below the pond the stream is little more than an artificial ditch lined with cranberry bogs. At the head of the Gona cranberry bog is an impassable fishway. Below this point there are nine cranberry bogs, and eight embankments, all but one of which are equipped with wooden flumes. A second fishway is situated at the last cranberry bog. Near Waquoit Village is the fish house and a third fishway. The alewife fishery in Childs River was started as a private enterprise by the Waquoit Herring River Company, and reached the maximum production of 180 barrels in 1872. The average catch is from 80 to 100 barrels. A larger fishery could have been maintained if it had not been for the cranberry bogs. Its future depends upon the maintenance of a suitable passage by the owners of the bogs from the salt water to John's Pond.
Coonamessett River, or Dexter's River, flows from Coonamessett Pond to Great Pond, and thence into Vineyard Sound. There are two fishing places, — one in East Falmouth, and the other near the pond. Below Coonamessett Pond is a timbered channel 3 feet in width. At the upper fish house is a dam below which the stream passes through 150 acres of cranberry bogs, where it is crossed by nine embankments before it finally passes into a series of five ponds.
In 1906 alewives were plentiful in Coonamessett River, and a 300-yard ditch was dug to allow the fish to reach Coonamessett Pond. The fishery, the most important in Falmouth, is of considerable importance, as the stream is naturally adapted for alewives, and Coonamessett Pond provides an excellent spawning ground. The inevitable conflict with the cranberry industry cannot be remedied except by requiring the bog owners to maintain competent passageways for the fish.
Oyster Pond. — Oyster Pond, a large brackish water pond, is situated in the southeastern part of the town. The outlet passes through a thatch meadow and under the road and railroad tracks to empty into Vineyard Sound by a wooden flume. Its fishery is public, and each inhabitant is entitled to a share which he may dispose of as he sees fit. It is common practice for a local dealer to buy as many of the shares as possible. Only on few occasions has the town otherwise disposed of the fishery.
Salt Pond. — Salt Pond is situated to the east of Oyster Pond, and is separated from Vineyard Sound by a road. The outlet is an excavated stream 4 to 5 feet wide. The fishery is similar to that of Oyster Pond.
Fresh Pond. — Fresh Pond is situated to the east of Salt Pond, and is connected with Vineyard Sound by a stream 8 to 10 feet wide. The outlet .is natural, but requires frequent clearing.
Little Pond. — Little Pond, situated to the east of Falmouth Heights, is connected with the ocean by a boarded outlet through which the fish pass into the pond.
Wing's Pond. — A small stream rises in Wing's Pond, or Herring Pond, at North Falmouth, and flows about 1 mile to Buzzard's Bay. The catching place, situated halfway down the stream, consists of a board passageway 1 foot wide. The fishery, of little value, is public, and a few alewives are taken by local residents.
Red Brook (Cataumet).
Red Brook has its source in a swamp in Cataumet, and its outlet in Red Brook Harbor. Its upper waters are used for flooding cranberry bogs, and it has one dam, equipped with a new concrete fishway, up which alewives experience little difficulty in passing. The fishery was established in 1900 by the town of Bourne, and the privilege has sold for from $6 to $41. The average annual catch from 1909 to 1911 ranged from 50 to 60 barrels. Though possessing limited spawning grounds, with proper care this fishery may be made even more productive than it is at present.
Monument River, or Herring River, Bourne, has been absorbed by the Cape Cod Canal. The stream, which has its origin in Little and Great Herring ponds, now is accessible to alewives from both Buzzard's Bay and Cape Cod Bay.
Between Little Herring and Great Herring ponds, beautiful and attractive spawning grounds, the stream passes through a region of cranberry bogs and over a concrete dam with a small fishway. Just below Great Herring Pond is situated the catching house. At Bournedale are two small artificial ponds. The sluiceway of the lower dam is now open and the pond drained, while the upper is provided with a fishway. At the outlet of the stream into the canal is a cement fishway, but the incline is so steep and the whirl of water so great that the alewives, except at high tide, find difficulty in ascending. In places the steep slope of the stream makes difficult the ascent,.
with the result that the fish arrive at the ponds in an exhausted condition.
The stream once yielded as high as 5,000 barrels per season, and maintained an average of 1,500 until 1912, when the fishery was seriously affected by the dredging of the canal, which changed the location of its outlet. The stream has never recovered from the effect of this change, and during the last few years it has yielded only a small per cent of its former production. The average receipts from the sale of the privilege for the seventeen years between 1895 and 1912 has been $787.93, the highest price, $1,843.55, having been paid in 1893.
This naturally productive stream has been heavily taxed by the one-year lease system, and has passed through a precarious stage of its existence during the dredging of the Cape Cod Canal. If the town of Bourne will ease the abrupt slope in certain parts of the stream, correct the defects in the present fishway, declare an immediate closed season in order to allow a good supply of alewives to reach the spawning grounds, and then lease the fishery for five-year periods, it can be brought back to its former position as one of the most productive streams in Massachusetts.