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Celebrating the return of the herring

March 24, 2013

The Hunts Mill Dam and fish ladder

EAST PROVIDENCE — Get ready to celebrate the return of the herring to the Turner Reservoir.
The annual herring run at Hunts Mills Dam is expected to take place during the weekend of April 13-14 — at least that's the educated guess of expert Keith Gonsalves of the Ten Mile River Watershed Council, who has been invited to speak at the East Providence Historical Society's general meeting tonight at 7 in the Newman Church hall, Rumford.
Gonsalves, administrator for the Ten Mile River Watershed Council, will speak about the importance of the herring migration on the Ten Mile River as well as the Army Corps of Engineers' recently-completed $4.8 million project that created fish ladders at Omega Pond Dam, Hunt's Mill Dam and the dam at Turner Reservoir.
Migratory fish like shad and herring were once commonplace on the Ten Mile, but dams on the river, which go back more than 200 years, have made it impossible for anadromous fish, defined as those migrating up rivers from the sea to breed in fresh water, to reach their breeding area. Before the fish ladders were installed, volunteers, led by local fishermen and the Ten Mile River Watershed Council, physically scooped herring every spring from the saltwater of the Seekonk River over the Omega Dam and into the Ten Mile River, where the fish could spawn in its fresh water.
With all three fishways now completed, alewives, blueback herring and American shad will be able to reach their freshwater habitats in the Turner Reservoir for spawning. The ladders offer a series of steps allowing the fish to scale the dams.
The Ten Mile River project is the largest fish run restoration project in Rhode Island. The three fish ladders will provide access to about 340 acres of spawning habitat, an acreage that can support more than 200,000 river herring and 25,000 American shad.
This year, Gonsalves' best educated guess is that the herring will run the weekend of April 13-14, a date the Ten Mile River Watershed Council has come up with based on data accrued over the many years members of the council have been counting and hoisting herring over the Omega dam — the location of the third and final fish ladder completed last year.
The fish ladder at Omega is four feet wide, made of concrete and situated beneath a railroad bridge near the northern abutment of the dam. Both that ladder and the ladder at the dam at Turner Reservoir will be ready for use for the first time this year.
Construction of the Hunts Mills fish ladder was completed in 2011.
Anadromous fish like river herring and shad live most of their lives in the ocean but return each spring to spawn in the rivers where they were hatched. After spawning, adults return to the ocean while the juveniles live in the river until their autumn migration. Four years later, they return from the sea to spawn in their birthplace. For anadromous fish in this region, that usually involves a long trip up Narragansett Bay to its freshwater tributaries.
The Ten Mile River is 22 miles long and meanders through Pawtucket and East Providence where it flows over Omega Dam into the Seekonk River, which empties into the Providence River and Narragansett Bay.
The headwaters of the Ten Mile are located at Savage Pond in Plainville, Mass. From there, the river flows south through North Attleboro, Attleboro, and Seekonk before entering Rhode Island.
The major tributaries of the Ten Mile are the Bungay and Seven Mile Rivers as well as the smaller Thacher, Wilde, and Coles brooks. There are 45 lakes and ponds in the watershed and 15 dams on the main stem of the Ten Mile River.


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