Factors affecting migration patterns of juvenile river herring in a coastal Massachusetts stream

by Joseph Iafrate, Kenneth Oliveira
Environmental Biology of Fishes ()


Juvenile anadromous river herring (alewives, Alosa pseudoharengus, and blueback herring, Alosa aestivalis) spend 3–7 months in freshwater before migrating to the ocean, often exhibiting waves of early and late migrations. Migratory patterns and associated abiotic and biotic factors were examined for both species migrating in 2003 from Herring River in Bourne Massachusetts. Migrating herring were grouped into two temporal periods and separated by species. Relationships between abiotic (water temperature, lunar phase, and precipitation) and biotic (size, age, growth rate, and hatch date) factors and the timing of out-migration (transition to seawater) were examined. Blueback herring migration coincided with a sharp decrease in temperature consistent with the time of year. Peaks in alewive migration may reflect adaptive traits maximizing likelihood of survival through seasonal marginal stream habitats and also avoiding lethal water temperatures in winter. Migrating bluebacks exhibited a single migratory period (late September–October) which occurred between the early and late migratory pulses of the alewives. These patterns may also represent distinct migration strategies between early and late migrating alewives and between the two species of river herring. Early migration may be a mechanism by which factors such as competition and low food availability are mitigated. In contrast, environmental conditions during the post hatching time of late migrators may allow for a size maximizing strategy that promotes migration from the nursery area as late as possible.

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