How to restore a herring run


To the Editor:

In connection with the story “Herring runs depleted across the Island” (May 29), readers may be interested to learn of Plymouth’s experience.

In the third week of April 2022, I went to Plymouth to see the herring run. I had heard of Plymouth’s multiphase project undertaken to restore its herring run, and was eager to witness the phenomenon of anadromous fish returning to their natal rivers and ponds to spawn.

My timing was perfect, as the herring were arriving in droves at the mouth of Town Brook, where it empties into Cape Cod Bay in Plymouth Center. In shallow spots, the brook was truly “alive with fish” flopping on top of one another as they wriggled upstream. Following a brookside trail, I hiked from from Plymouth Center all the way up to the Billington Sea, where the herring spawn. The way the fish gather into groups before defying gravity to jump up the fish ladders and buck fast-flowing water over rocky rapids is awe-inspiring and moving.

A recent story in the Plymouth Independent ( contains a graph showing the steady increase in the number of herring returning to Town Brook since the restoration project started in 2002. A lot of restoration work has also been done on the Nemasket River, and the now much-improved herring run can be observed at many points in Middleboro, especially at the Wareham Street Fish Ladder.

According to the Plymouth Independent, “River herring are now considered by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to be depleted to ‘historic lows’ along the entire U.S. East Coast. The primary reason for this is likely the degradation or loss of habitat.

Surely the Vineyard can do what Plymouth and Middleboro can do — or maybe not. Maybe we lack those towns’ community spirit. Or perhaps we lack leaders such as David Gould, the director of Plymouth’s energy and environment department, who spearheaded the Plymouth project (see a wonderful drone-flight-enhanced presentation on the project’s history and progress:

Nelson Sigelman, in the comment thread of the MV Times story, provides a link to his own detailed account of barriers to removing barriers—antiquated culverts—on the Mill Brook ( The takeaway from his report: On Mill Brook, the herring and other fish populations will remain impoverished until abutters (many of them heralded as community and environmental leaders), the towns, and the county finally get serious about removing all of the barriers and impediments on the brook’s course.

The idea — put forth by certain abutters and cited by Sigelman — that making these and other changes to restore the Mill Brook so that it reverts to being a healthy environment for multiple species of fish and other organisms will actually result in ecological degradation and negative environmental impacts is absurd on its face. The notion that a 50-year history of various structures on Mill Brook represents a greater community and planetary value than the multi-thousand-year natural history of this waterway sounds obviously self-serving. The idea that starting the brook’s remediation is “not urgent” is belied by the thrust of The MV Times report. Earth’s environment is made up of millions of microsystems such as the Mill Brook watershed. Every stream affects the body of water it flows into. Let’s get serious about restoring the Mill Brook to its natural, free-flowing state.


Katherine Scott