The Commonwealth of Massachusetts

William C. Adams, Director, Division of Fisheries and Game, State House, Boston, Mass.

Sir:- I herewith submit a report upon the history, present condition and possibility of development of the alewife fishery of Massachusetts. This investigation was made in 1912, 1913, 1917, 1919 and 1920 under provisions of chapter 178, Acts of 1902. The survey of 1912 and 1913 was done by Mr. Roy S. Corwin, at that time Assistant Biologist.

                        Respectfully submitted,

                                      David L. Belding,




Taunton River

If it were not for the vast amount of pollution in its waters, the Taunton River with its many branches and ponds would support extensive alewife and shad fisheries, The tributary streams will here be treated as individual units, and the fishery in each considered separately, beginning with the headwaters.

The Taunton River is used for power, and to a limited extent for navigation. Upon it and its tributaries are situated numerous dams and obstructions, some of which are provided with fishways. It is polluted by wastes from numerous factories and by sewage of towns and cities along its course. At East Taunton the old Bracket fishway, at the important Connecticut Mills dam, the lowest in the river, was replaced in 1918 by a new fishway of the David type.

The fishery has been carried on ever since the settlers first took up their homes along its banks. Thirteen privileges to seine herring were distributed among the towns and cities on the main river. Taunton received three, Raynham two, Dighton two, Somerset two, Berkley two, Freetown one, and Fall River one. Although all the privileges were generally purchased each year, only seven or eight were actually used. The purchaser of a privilege was not restricted to a definite locality, but could seine any part of the river. It is said that there are only seven or eight sites along the river where seining is practicable, which, to some extent, explains the low prices at which these privileges have been sold, as riparian owners of favorable seining places have been in a position to throttle the competition.

The prices paid for these seining privileges has generally declined. The Dighton privileges which formerly sold for $400 to $500 now sell for $10 to $20. In 1913 the three Taunton privileges which in 1899 cost $45 were sold for $10 apiece. The city of Fall River in 1880 sold its privilege for $103; in 1884 for $50; in 1906 for $7.50; and in 1909 for $21. Since 1909 the privilege has not been sold.

The shad, once present in numbers, is now commercially extinct. In 1906, 2,100 shad were caught in one place by Mr. Gof, whereas in 1913 only 500 were taken at both seining places. The alewife fishery, one of the greatest and most famous in the country, is seriously impaired. To check this decline prompt action is necessary. An excellent fishway has been installed at East Taunton, which will give a clear passage way up to the various tributaries. The success of the Taunton River fishery chiefly depends upon the opening of the tributary streams and the extension of the spawning grounds. Pollution is a serious handicap which must be overcome. The present methods of fishing, whereby alewives are taken by various towns, both in the main river and tributary streams, are detrimental to the best interests of the fishery, as an in sufficient number reach the spawning grounds. By pooling the interests of the whole river, and by the judicious use of closed seasons, the fishery once more may be restored. The Division of Fisheries and Game is endeavoring, through the installation of practical fishways on the upper branches, to open up former spawning grounds, such as Robbins, Monponset and Nippenicket ponds, which in recent years have been inaccessible to the alewives.

Salisbury Plain River.— This Bridgewater stream, 14 to 15 miles long, enters the Taunton River by way of the Matfield River. It is obstructed by two dams, and receives trade-waste pollution from its tributaries. Although at one time it possessed a fishery of some little importance, the present general conditions, and lack of adequate spawning grounds, preclude the possibility of its re-establishment.

Satucket River and Monponset Brook.Satucket River, which takes its origin in Monponset Pond, joins the Salisbury Plain River to form the Matfield river, which is the upper part of the Taunton River proper. The first part of its course, between Monponset and Robbins Ponds, is through a region of cranberry bogs, on the site of the original Stump Pond. The river is used for water power, and receives factory wastes. At the outlet of Robbins Pond is a cobblestone embankment, and at the lower part of the river is situated the Carver Cotton Gin Company, with a high impassable dam, now equipped with a David fishway.

At present time there is no fishery in the Satucket River, as until 1920 the alewives were unable to get to Robbins and Monponset ponds for spawning. Formerly numbers of alewives passed up this river, and a shad weir was once located on the Matfield river.

By establishment of fishways and the affording of free passageway to Robbins and Monponset ponds the available spawning grounds for Taunton River would be increased, a fair fishery in Satucket River would be established, and the fresh-water fishing in the ponds would be helped by provision of a source of fish food in the form of young alewives; also the run of white perch would be permitted. By the establishment of a concrete fishway in 1919 at the Jenkins Company dam it was made possible for alewives to pass up to the dam of the Carver Cotton Gin Company, where a fishway was installed in 1920. Restocking of the ponds with adult alewives, and proper enforcement of closed seasons, will be necessary to obtain appreciable results within the next few years.

Town River.— Town River, sometimes known as Titicut River, has its origin in Nippenicket Pond, and flows for 7 miles to join the Matfield River. It is extensively used for water power by several mills in the town of West Bridgewater and Bridgewater. At West Bridgewater is situated the dilapidated dam of the Easton Investment Company; at Bridgewater the dam of the Stanley Iron Works; and below the junction of the Matfield and Town Rivers, in Paper Mill Village, the Jenkins Leatherboard Company. At the two latter dams standard fishways, designed by the Division of Fisheries and Game, have been installed.

There is no fishery in the Town River, since there have been no fishways since 1888, when the old ones at Pratt’s Dam and at the Stanley Iron Works were carried away by a freshet.

By the installation of one more fishway, at the dam of the Easton Investment Company, Nippenicket Pond may be used as a spawning ground, and the fishery may once more be revived. Plans for a simple fishway have already been submitted to the owners of the dam. The stocking of Nippenicket Pond will accelerate the re-establishment of the fishery.

Nemasket River and Assawompsett Brook.— Nemasket River takes its origin in Assawompsett Pond, and flows through Middleboro to empty into the Taunton River. It receives waste from several factories, sewage from the town of Middleboro, and, in addition to the dams at the outlet of Assawompsett Pond, is blocked by two main dams, which are provided with more or less adequate fishways.

At Starr Mills, north of the village of Middleboro, the fishway is in the form of a natural stream of a gradual rise, equipped with stone projections to enable the alewives to pass up against the current. At the Wareham Street dam, where water is used for power by the Middleboro Electric Light Company, there are three outlets,– one a sluiceway to the Electric Light Company, the second the main overflow, and the third the present cement and stone fishway which has a good flow of water, and in most respects is satisfactory. Unfortunately, owing to an inadequate screen, the fish are attracted by the greater volume of water, and pass by the fishway entrance to eventually find themselves in a blind pocket under the dam. If the stream were properly screened, and the fishway properly cared for by the town, there is no reason why it would not be entirely satisfactory for the passage of alewives. Since the water does not pass over the spillway at this dam in the fall there is no provision for the young alewives to pass down stream, except through the turbine wheel.

A public fishery was established in 1792, and alewives are now taken at the fishway at Starr Mill. The custom of the town is to sell the privilege for periods of one year, but in 1913 it was sold for three years for $235. In recent years the production has markedly diminished, the catch for the past few years having hardly averaged 150 barrels.

The alewife fishery of Nemasket river has always been intimately connected with town affairs, having been a most important factor in its early development. Neglect in keeping fishways in proper shape, permitting pollution such as sewage and manufacturing wastes to enter the stream, and the illogical method of leasing the fishery for a one year period, have all been contributing factors in its decline. However, it might still be made a extremely valuable asset to the town of Middleboro, if more attention were given to its regulation.

Littleworth Brook.– Littleworth Brook, a small tributary, forms Bear Hole and King’s Furnace Ponds. Records do not show that alewives ever came up this stream in any numbers.

Two Mile River.– Two Mile River, or Raynham Brook, which rises in Gushe Pond, is obstructed by six dams. There has never been a fishery here, and the presence of numerous dams renders the establishment of any difficult.

Mill River.– Mill River, formed by the union of Canoe River and Mulberry Brook, passes through Winneconet Pond and Sabatia Lake to empty into the Taunton River. Since it is badly polluted by manufacturing wastes, and obstructed by dams, the re-establishment of the old fishery is an impossibility.

Three Mile River. – Three Mile River, formed by the union of Wading and Rumford Rivers, enters the Taunton River near Dighton. It is used chiefly for power, is obstructed by several dams, and is badly polluted with trade wastes, which render the re-establishment of a fishery extremely remote.

Assonet River.– Assonet River, which forms a broad , deep arm of the lower Taunton, obstructed by six dams. Although not operated, the fishery is normally controlled by the Assonet Fishing Company, established in 1860. Permits are given by Freetown to catch the few stray alewives which come up Assonet River each spring.

By installing fishways, prohibiting pollution, and stocking the headwaters, a fishery might be established with considerable difficulty.

Segreganset River.– This river, obstructed by four dams, has never supported a fishery, and offers no opportunity for one.

Quequechan River.– This stream, which is used for power and for steam condensing by numerous Fall River mills, is obstructed by several dams. It has its primary source in Watuppa Pond, and secondarily rises in Stafford, Savoy and Devol Ponds, by way of Sucker Brook. It never had and never can maintain an alewife fishery.

Cook’s Pond Brook.– The outlet of Cook’s Pond, a largely underground stream, is used for steam condensing, is obstructed by dams and reservoirs, and receives pollution in the form of hot water and waste materials from the mills. It can never support an alewife fishery.