From Chutes to Ladders: The Story of Citizens Helping Herring

It was the best of times, it was the sweatiest of times: it was the time of the herring migration “bucket brigades,” when dozens of community members would hoist hundreds of fish over the Mystic Lakes Dam using buckets and pulleys, and then send them down a chute into the upper Mystic Lakes. The last of the brigades in 2011 transported an incredible 19,000 fish in just three days. Check out some great pictures of the bucket brigades here.

Though short-lived, the bucket brigades, and the citizen action that accompanied them, are one of the main reasons that a fish ladder was installed at Mystic Lakes Dam in 2012, thereby allowing the herring to return to their ancient spawning grounds the old-fashioned way, by fin power (though with the help of ladders).

“Even before the bucket brigade, you would see community members, including myself, out at the dam lifting fish up using buckets,  milk crates (my preference) and even their hands,” said Mystic River Watershed Association Board Chair and long-time volunteer, John Reinhardt. “The years of the bucket brigade demonstrated that the herring were coming up the Mystic River in large numbers and that we needed a fish ladder to get them into the upper Mystic Lake.”

By counting herring you are taking part in this ongoing Mystic River success story. A story that now includes not just one, but two fish ladders and a continually expanding herring spawning ground.

We encourage you keep counting—to be part of this continued Mystic success story. This information will be used to advocate for even more improvements to ensure an even more robust herring population and a healthier Mystic River watershed ecosystem in general.

And don’t forget to tell your friends that they can count too—the more the merrier!  

 David Mussina, local volunteer and photographer, donated photos to liven up the MyRWA office. Stop by to see this one capturing the bucket brigade!

David Mussina, local volunteer and photographer, donated photos to liven up the MyRWA office. Stop by to see this one capturing the bucket brigade!