Fish Monitoring Program

alewife newVolunteers needed to monitor herring on the Concord River

We all are attracted to the larger animals in the ocean. Kids are especially drawn to the whales, sharks, and seals. These more charismatic species play an important role in our ocean ecosystem, but they are part of the food chain and rely on their prey, the smaller “forage” fish [video], to survive.

River herring, which spawn in our local rivers, are an important forage fish in our oceans. Studying these forage fish helps us determine the health of our river systems, where they spawn, as well as the larger ocean ecosystem.

Why monitor fish in Lowell?                                                  BACKGROUND VIDEO

Lowell is at the confluence of the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Here, we have a unique opportunity to monitor river herring at the Centennial Island Fish Ladder. There are two types of river herring: blueback and alewife. In our watershed, we tend to see more of the alewives (vs. blueback herring).

Herring travel upstream from the ocean to their spawning grounds in our rivers and streams. They will first pass through Lawrence and get lifted up over the dam at the Lawrence fish elevator where they are counted.

Wamesit Falls Concord River, oil painting by Mark Romanowsky

The view from the fish ladder is of Wamesit Falls, the Concord River Greenway, and above that, the Lowell Cemetery.

Once the fish reach Lowell, they will either continue traveling up the Merrimack or head south into the Concord River, attempting to reach the upper reaches of the Sudbury-Assabet-Concord (SuAsCo) River Watershed.

As the fish pass through Lowell, they must first get over the Middlesex Dam (near Lower Locks and Middlesex Community College), then over Wamesit Falls (or Centennial Dam). If these passages are successful, they will reach the Talbot Mills Dam in Billerica which has no access for fish passage.

By monitoring the passage of herring and other species in Lowell, we can get a better understanding of what kind of modifications are needed to allow for upstream fish passage at the Talbot Mills Dam in Billerica.

Opening up fish passage at the Billerica Dam will allow fish to access the entire SuAsCo Watershed – and the largest acreage of fish habitat in all of New England.

Volunteers needed:         

Volunteers are needed to monitor fish this spring (approximately mid-May to mid-June 2018), as we’re expecting a large run of river herring based on 2015 and 2016 counts in Lawrence.

We need you to help us count the fish, both at the Centennial Island fish ladder and through video monitoring. We need volunteers to conduct 10-minute fish counts (randomly, during a four hour time slot). We also need volunteers to watch video taken from an underwater camera to verify our counts and document passage at night.  This can be done from your home.

Please email Lisa if you are interested in helping out, either in person at the ladder or by watching video footage. The schedule (above) will be updated by staff as we get volunteers for time slots. We’re looking for three people to come anytime during each four-hour time slot.               

Additional Resources

2016 Fish Counts on the Merrimack River: Anadromous Fish Returns 

Forage fish: Ocean Wildlife Needs Plentiful Forage Fish to Thrive (The Pew Charitable Trusts)

Herring Management & Policy: Memo to Council on Atlantic Herring: Don’t Stop Now (The Pew Charitable Trusts)

Regional Herring Monitoring Programs

All of these programs begin counting fish a few weeks before we start in Lowell (since we are further inland)

Mystic River Watershed Association Herring Monitoring Program: What are river herring? Historical data.  Interestingly, this watershed has a larger population of blueback herring, whereas on the Concord there are more alewife.

Ipswich River Watershed Association Herring Count: Video monitoring, historical data, volunteer training information

Jones River Herring Count: Video footage, volunteer program

Shawsheen River Herring Monitoring Schedule & Guide

  • Interesting article on recent Shawsheen dam removal in Andover.

Supporting Research at UMass Lowell

In collaboration with Dr. Frédéric Chain from the Biology Department at UMass Lowell, we are using “environmental DNA” to monitor biodiversity in the Concord River during the alewife migration.

As organisms leave behind trace amounts of their DNA in the environment, genetic approaches can be applied to detect what lives in or along the river. These methods offer high sensitivity to detect a broad range of creatures from just a few samples, and are able to identify species we would otherwise miss using traditional sampling techniques. We will be collecting water samples to identify the DNA of fishes, mammals, invertebrates, plants, and other organisms occurring around the Wamesit Falls fish ladder. These efforts will inform us on the species diversity in our river, providing a glimpse into the biological patterns associated with the alewife migration.