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Fish and Game is inviting public comment on the proposed reintroduction, part of the first phase of a revised river herring restoration plan for the Merrimack River. The goal of the plan is to restore the abundant population of river herring that once migrated from the ocean to spawn in the Merrimack River each spring. Increasing the number of herring that reach the Amoskeag Dam Fishway in Manchester would facilitate a large-scale "trap and transfer" effort in the Merrimack River watershed.
River herring once migrated from the ocean to coastal rivers each spring in incredible numbers to spawn in lakes, ponds and streams. River herring and their offspring provided an abundant food source for countless predators. Over the years, dams, pollution and overfishing have taken their toll on New Hampshire's river herring populations, and today their numbers are just a fraction of their potential.
The New Hampshire project would be modeled after the successful restoration project on the Kennebec River. Beginning in 1987, the Maine Department of Marine Resources undertook an ambitious plan to restore river herring to the Kennebec River. Thousands of adult alewives and blueback herring were stocked in the lakes and tributaries of the Kennebec River to boost the spawning population. Now, after improving access to spawning habitat with multiple fish passage and dam removal projects, over 2 million river herring swim up the Kennebec River each spring, one of the largest river herring runs on the East Coast.
Like the Kennebec, the Merrimack River offers great potential for river herring restoration, but these days only a few hundred fish are counted at the Essex Dam Fishway in Lawrence, Massachusetts, each spring.
This is not the first time herring have been reintroduced to Winnisquam. In the mid- to late 1980s, N.H. Fish and Game transported alewives from the Androscoggin River in Maine into Winnisquam Lake. Five years later, nearly 400,000 river herring returned to the Merrimack River. Unfortunately, fisheries managers were not equipped to transport this number of fish upstream, and river herring were unable to access suitable habitat above the Hooksett Dam. Alewives were last stocked in Lake Winnisquam in 1990 and, by the end of the decade, the number of fish returning to the Merrimack River had dropped significantly.
Since that time, Public Service of New Hampshire has built a "trap and transport" facility at the Amoskeag Dam in Manchester, so biologists would be able to capture migrating river herring at the Amoskeag Dam Fishway and transport them to suitable spawning habitat throughout the Merrimack River watershed.
The difference between river herring restoration in the Kennebec River and the Merrimack River has been a matter of scale. Biologists in Maine were able to stock tens of thousands of river herring into large lakes in the upper watershed by capturing river herring in the lower Kennebec River. In New Hampshire, aside from the brief population increase in the early 1990s, biologists have not had access to large numbers of river herring for transfer. Thanks to the cooperation of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, river herring from Maine waters are now available to stock in New Hampshire.
"By stocking Lake Winnisquam, we hope to regenerate an abundant run of river herring that will migrate up the Merrimack River and reach the Amoskeag Dam Fishway. River herring could then be transferred from the Amoskeag Fishway in large numbers to spawning habitat upstream," explained fisheries biologist Matthew Carpenter, who coordinates N.H. Fish and Game's anadromous fisheries program.
The second phase of the restoration plan involves building fish passage and removing barriers to migration so that, in the long term, river herring trap and transport would no longer be necessary. "The ultimate goal of the proposed project is to create an abundant, self-sustaining population of river herring in the Merrimack River watershed," said Carpenter.
For directions to the Belknap County Sportsmenís Association go to: http://www.belknapsportsmensclub.com.
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