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River Herring Management

River herring are diadromous fish. They live in saltwater and freshwater during different parts of the year. More specifically, they are anadromous, which means they live most of their adult life in the ocean but return to freshwater ponds to spawn. (The American Eel, however, is catadromous. It lives most of its life in freshwater ponds and migrates to the ocean for spawning.) There are two river herring species; the alewife and blueback herring, and both are native to Barnstable. They visit our freshwater streams and ponds in mid March and spawn during the spring season. The adults then return back to the ocean by July. The juvenile river herring, also known as fry, will grow to about 2 to 3 inches long in the ponds and attempt to leave for the ocean in the early fall season. River herring feed on plant and animal plankton, insects, and small fish larvae. Many other animals feed on river herring as an important food source, including striped bass, bluefish, brown trout, largemouth bass, osprey, gulls, and eagles.


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Rules and Regulations

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries has renewed the state waters river herring moratorium. Until further notice the harvest, possession or sale of river herring is prohibited in the Commonwealth. Therefore the town of Barnstable River Herring regulations have been recently changed to contain the following:

§ 407-10. Herring and alewife rules and regulations.

A. It shall be unlawful for any person to harvest, possess or sell river herring in the Town of Barnstable or in waters under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

B. Conservation. Throwing objects into the water and/or malicious destruction of the herring and alewives is prohibited.

C. Unauthorized alteration of herring runs. No person shall tamper with, adjust or destroy any structure provided for the passage of herring and alewives unless authorized by the Supervisor of Natural Resources.


Natural Resources Program Responsibilities
  • Manage water flow control boards to allow enough water in the herring runs for fish to migrate up and down stream. Fish passage structures do not control the overall water level in our ponds; water height is a function of long term rainfall, groundwater supply, and spring water discharge.
  • Maintain all river herring runs in town to make sure the adult fish can migrate upstream into spawning ponds in spring and that the fry can make it down stream into the ocean in autumn. This involves clearing thick vegetation and downed trees that collect debris and block water flow.
  • Monitor river herring migration during the spring and fall to make sure no fish are illegally harvested or their passage is obstructed.
  • Coordinate volunteer river herring run clean up efforts.
  • Manage river herring count programs and coordinate with local conservation groups that also have counting programs.
Useful Information and Links





Daniel J. Horn
P 508-790-6272
F 508-790-6275
1189 Phinney's Lane
Centerville, MA. 02632

Public Records
Ann Quirk
Public Records Request
Natural Resource Officers


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