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Volunteer River Herring Monitoring Program

A River Herring
A River Herring. (Chris Bowser)

We will not be recruiting volunteers for the 2013 season. The herring team is currently evaluating new technologies to learn about herring use of the Hudson's tributaries. Please stay tuned as we will share the results at the end of the season. If you are interested in volunteering in the future please e-mail the herring team . Thank you for your interest in these important Hudson River fish.

Welcome to the Volunteer River Herring Monitoring Program webpage! The NYSDEC Hudson River Estuary Program and Hudson River Fisheries Unit began the Volunteer River Herring Monitoring program in 2008 to collect presence and absence data for River Herring from Hudson River tributaries. This information provides valuable support to the Estuary Program and fisheries managers by helping to achieve the goals of the Hudson River Estuary Action Agenda.

What we do:

Each spring, we recruit and train volunteers for the Volunteer River Herring Monitoring Program, in which volunteers visit their local streams twice a week during the months of April and May to monitor for river herring. This webpage is a tool for current volunteers as well as an information center for those who may be interested in participating in the program.

Why Should I Care About River Herring?

Alewives and Blueback herring are two of four species in the Herring Family that migrate into the Hudson River and its tributaries to spawn. Due to similarities in range, appearance and life history, alewives and bluebacks are often grouped together as "river herring". These species play an important role in the Hudson River ecosystem and are also sought after by people for food and bait. For more detailed information on how river herring use the Hudson River, please follow this link to the Herring of New York page.

A school of river herring
A school of river herring. (Byron Young)

Although a valuable resource, river herring stocks along the East Coast are declining. No single cause has been identified, but it is likely a combination of dams (which restrict their migrations into tributaries to spawn), water quality issues, invasive species such as the zebra mussel, over fishing, bycatch losses (caught in fisheries that target other species), and increases in predator populations.

Annual surveys carried out by the Hudson River Fisheries Unit (HRFU) provide information on spawning stock characteristics, but do not provide specific data on the runs in each tributary because of the shear area to cover; roughly 65 major tributaries spanning 152 miles. In the first three years of the program, the Volunteer River Herring Monitoring Program collected valuable information on spawning runs in 16 different tributaries within the Hudson River Estuary. Each year we continue to grow and gather more information about the herring migration, and this spring you can help!

A volunteer looking for river herring from a bridge
A volunteer looking for river
herring in Black Creek

What Will I Do as a Volunteer?

Volunteers will monitor (look for presence or absence) for river herring at a specific tributary in their area, usually viewing from a bridge or other good vantage points on the creek. During each monitoring trip, volunteers will fill out a simple data sheet with the date, time, their location, tide stage, weather conditions, stream conditions, and herring observations. Following these factors with the herring runs help us to answer the following questions:

  • Which tributaries are used by spawning river herring? How have the spawning runs in these tributaries changed over time, and do these trends reflect stream health?
  • Does time of day impact the number of herring in the stream? Do herring prefer to migrate at certain tidal stages?
  • Ultimately, the data we collect in the program create a good estimate of the length of the herring runs, and is a great way to detect regional differences in the timing of herring arrival. Also, recording environmental variables such as tide, water temperature, and cloud cover might help determine why herring use some tributaries more extensively than others and what influences their migration in and out of the tributaries.

Monitoring Instructions

School of river herring
A school of river herring. (Byron Young)

Monitoring will take place April 1st through May 31st. After attending a brief training session near their local tributary, volunteers will:

  • Monitor their site at least twice a week, for 15 minutes*, looking for signs of herring (fish in water, remains on the bank, or fisherman catches). Record all data on the data sheet, so everyone gathers the same information.*The 15 minute monitoring trip is important! If all volunteers monitor for the same amount of time, it maintains consistency, and allows for accurate data comparisons.
  • Wait at least six hours before the next 15 minute monitoring event! A consistent time gap between trips lets us study changing environmental conditions that can affect herring runs, such as differences in cloud cover, water temperature, and tides.
  • Monitor at your designated sites. If other volunteers visit the creek with you, please only fill out one report (but record everyone's name).
  • Wear Polarized sunglasses, if you have them. They greatly reduce glare so you can see fish!

Interested in Volunteering?

  • To sign up for a River Herring Monitoring training event, contact us with the tributary you would like to monitor, either by email or by phone at (845) 256-3172. Don't know what tributary is closest? See our 2012 Sites Map (PDF) (565 kB)...or ask us!
  • Also, read through this web page and our 2012 Monitoring Packet Part 1 (PDF) (4.6 mB) and 2012 Monitoring Packet Part 2 (PDF) (2 mB). The packet includes a synopsis of the program, the monitoring protocol, a key to identifying river herring, a fact sheet explaining tides, and the monitoring data sheet. It is important to print out this packet and bring it to the stream each time you monitor.
  • For information on previous monitoring seasons, please see the 2008 Report (PDF) (264 kB), 2009 Report (PDF) (326 kB), and 2010 Report (PDF) (270 kB). These documents provide background information on river herring in the Hudson River and also summarize the findings of the year's monitoring efforts. Other information regarding our program is available upon request.
  • If you would like to attend a training session, we can be reached by e-mail or by phone at (845) 256-3172. If you are interested in volunteering, please indicate which tributary you would like to monitor.

Contact Us:

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer for a tributary in your area, or have questions, comments, or concerns please contact us via e-mail or by phone: (845)256-3172. Please indicate which tributary you would like to monitor.

We look forward to "herring" from you!

The Hudson River Estuary Program's Logo


Thank you volunteers! You are an integral part of the conservation of this species, and we thank you for taking an important role in your local watershed.