Early buckeyes spawn hope for a strong herring run

Warwick Beacon Online
by John Howell
April 02, 2009

A spring ritual that has been a part of Warwick for as long as man has kept history –the buckeye or herring spawning run –has started sooner than usual, giving hope for a strong run this year.

Paul Earnshaw spotted the first couple of fish in Buckeye Brook almost three weeks ago. Subsequent outings found nothing until last weekend when suddenly things changed.

Earnshaw, president of the Buckeye Brook Coalition, is on a campaign to recruit and train fish counters so as to generate data on the fish runs and assess the blue back herring and American alewife populations that as recently as 30 years ago were so prolific that for weeks the brook was filled with fish to the point they were flopping on its banks.

The runs that can last into mid-May became shorter and with fewer fish. In an effort to save the runs, the taking of fish was banned but it seemed to come too late. There were some years when only a few herring were seen in Buckeye Brook and runs in other Rhode Island streams were a shadow of what they had once been.

It’s no wonder then that Earnshaw was excited when 16 fish were counted on Saturday. On Sunday, area resident John Paul counted seven fish and then people recently trained in how to count fish visited the brook and the numbers shot up another 27.

All of this and the official count hadn’t even started.

That count began yesterday and will run through May 15.

For a first time the coalition will man a second fish counting station in addition to that of the Department of Environmental Management at Buckeye Brook where it is crossed by Warwick Avenue. The second station is at the north end of Warwick Lake where the brook flows under Lakeshore Drive.

“We’re hoping to get some contrasting data and see how many that make it to the pond [Warwick Lake] go to Spring Green,” he said.

Spring Green Pond is north of Airport Road and visible from Warwick Avenue.

In addition to early signs of a good run this year, the coalition has had a positive response to its call for volunteers. Twenty-two people signed up as fish counters, a task that Earnshaw assures is “not very pressing.” Counters are asked to give a minimum of 10 minutes in a two-week period to the job. The task consists of recording the depth and the temperature of the water at the station and, naturally, the numbers of fish swimming over a white band across the bottom of the stream. The time of the count is recorded as well as the directions in which the fish are swimming. Herring return to the ocean after spawning.

The information gathered is entered into a log kept in a lock box at each station.

Earnshaw is hopeful that the Lakeshore Drive box that is clearly visible to motorists will generate interest from residents on the west side of Warwick Lake. He’s looking to recruit counters who will take a couple of minutes to check for fish and record the data.

Interest in the brook’s herring run has come from around the state. Earnshaw said he has counters sign up who live in South Kingstown, West Greenwich and western Cranston.

Earnshaw said he was informed by DEM that the Buckeye Brook sightings are the first of herring in the region this year. Usually, he said, fish don’t start spawning runs until the water reaches 40 degrees, which it is close to now. He is also of the theory fish are more likely to return during the two hours before or immediately after high tide. It’s at those times that he has spotted the most fish.

In addition to the fish count, Earnshaw and the coalition are gearing up for the annual Earth Day cleanup of the brook and the environs. That cleanup is scheduled for April 18 from 9 a.m. to noon. Volunteers are to meet in the parking lot of the Knights of Columbus Hall on Sandy Lane and Warwick Avenue. At Earnshaw’s request the city will close Old Warwick Avenue so as to allow cleanup crews to access the brook without the danger of traffic.

Those interested in learning more about how they can assist as fish counters should call Earnshaw at 739-6592.