Herring In Our Midst
© WCS/Photos by J.Maher
Where car tires and factory refuse once rooted to its banks and flowed down its channel, new life has delicately reclaimed the Bronx River. The New York waterway is now home to alewife herring, night herons and egrets, and even a lone beaver. The return of native wildlife is proof of the river's improving health, and a testimony to community restoration efforts by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Bronx River Alliance, NYC Department of Parks and Recreation's Natural Resource Group, and Lehman College.
In order to find their way back to their historic home, some of these wildlife residents needed a little encouragement- and in the case of the herring, transit assistance. Last year, 200 of the silvery fish were ferried overland by truck from their birthplace in Connecticut to the riverfront of the Bronx Zoo. The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection Inland Fisheries Division donated the truck, labor, and the aquatic pioneers themselves. The herring were released into their native home with great fanfare, the first net lowered to the water by Congressman Jose E. Serrano. Serrano's support of the restoration project has been integral to its success, and resulted in a federal partnership grant to WCS from NOAA, the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The 2006 release turned out to be highly successful, with the fish taking immediately to their new home. The herring spawned, producing the first official generation of Bronx alewives in more than 300 years, since the river was dammed for local industry. The flourmills that sprouted along the riverbanks in the 1600s blocked access to the fish's spawning grounds, and they vanished from the river. Last fall, the reintroduced herring's offspring were observed swimming downstream, presumably on their way to sea. (Like salmon, river herring hatch in freshwater and swim out to sea, returning as adults to their birthplace to spawn.) They are expected to return to the Bronx River in 2009, following a three to five year maturation period in the Long Island Sound and other coastal waters.
With the first stocking effort complete, a second alewife herring release of approximately 400 fish occurred on April 5, 2007. The ongoing effort will increase the chances that a breeding population flourishes in the river once again. Even so, the journey out to sea and back won't be trouble-free. The fish will face hazards at all stages of life, including degraded water quality, loss of habitat and access to habitat in coastal and inland streams, disease, predators, and commercial fishing.
The once ubiquitous springtime occupants of New York's rivers, estuaries, and open oceans are an important link in the local food chain, as prey for striped bass, bluefish, heron, ospreys, seals, and otters. In addition, a run of herring benefits humans, too, offering increased recreational opportunities such as fishing, as well as instilling a community stewardship toward the long-neglected Bronx River.
Posted by: Ashley Source