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The Herring Run!

The term herring run, or even herring, may be foreign to the everyday person. I know that before taking the time to learn about this fascinating fish species, I was one of those people. But now I can say that I know about herring and their spring migration, and can be more engaged when it comes time for Plimoth Plantation’s annual Herring Run Festival.

Alewife and Blueback Herring. Photo Credit: Maryland Fish Facts (


To begin, there are two types of herring in the Plymouth community, known as Alewife and Blueback Herring (as seen above). For the river herring to complete their life cycle, they must migrate between fresh water sources to those of salt water, making them a diadromous species. When spawning, the river herring return to where they had been hatched in the spring, the peak months being April and May, and the females lay anywhere between 60,000 to 350,000 eggs, knowing that only a few will survive the process of natural selection in order to repeat the cycle and spawn about three to five years later. From even before the time of Native Americans, herring have served a crucial role in the food chain as they provide abundant nutrients to animals such as seals, birds, otters, other fish species, and much more. They were also of great importance to the Wampanoag tribe and Pilgrims since they provided a source of protein and fat.

Unfortunately, the river herring population has been declining rapidly, especially throughout the twentieth century. Both the Blueback and Alewife Herring were named as species of concern in 2006 by the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, most likely at the result of inadequate spawning habitat, poor water quality, overfishing, and physical obstructions to migrations such as dams. However, to revive the species, but mainly to restore the historic Town Brook of Plymouth, a project focused on the removal of several dams across the brook has reached its final steps after sixteen years of hard work that began in 2002 with the removal of the Billington Street Dam. The Town Brook Restoration project will be completed in time for the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims in Plymouth, but there is cause for celebration before then.

Overview of the Holmes Dam removal project, the last major step in restoration of Plymouth's historic Town Brook. Credit: Town of Plymouth

On April 27th, 2019 from 10:00 A.M. - 3:00 P.M., join NOAA, the Town of Plymouth, and the Plimoth Grist Mill at the annual Herring Run Festival to celebrate the return of the river herring to the Town Brook! The celebration is full of fun, free activities, beginning with the fish parade at 10:00 A.M. from the footbridge at Brewster Garden to Jenney Pond Park at 6 Spring Lane that follows the journey of the river herring to where they lay their eggs. At the mill, all ages can participate in watching the herring swim, help scientists count fish and collect information about their progress on the fish ladder, learn about eels, and explore the restored ecosystems of the Town Brook through guided walks. There will be live music paired with samples of “a-maize-ing” treats made with Plimoth Grist Mill’s signature flours as a variety of family programs take place from meetings with a Pilgrim herring warden and the incredible Herring lady to demonstrations about the importance of herring to the Wampanoag people. Celebrate the arrival of spring at the Herring Run Festival and get creative - fish hats, masks, and costumes are encouraged!

The Plimoth Grist Mill. Photo Credit: Plimoth Plantation (