Restoration project on Weweantic aims to restore river’s rich fish populations

What happens when the Weweantic River’s rich populations of migratory fish – river herring, eels, white perch, and more – reach the crumbling remnants of a dam at the head of tide, where salt water meets fresh?

remnants of an old dam on the Weweantic River in Wareham

The Coalition is beginning a process to restore the Weweantic River at Horseshoe Mill, a former industrial site in Wareham where the dam is located.

“There’s a wall there now that these fish can’t get past,” said Brendan Annett, Vice President of Watershed Protection for the Coalition. “These species are having a hard time.”

Because of this blockage, fish populations on the Weweantic River are falling. Still, the Weweantic is home to the most diverse community of migratory fish that remains anywhere on Buzzards Bay. It’s a fragment of the type of fish communities that used to live in all of the Bay’s rivers, from Westport to Woods Hole.

“There really is an opportunity here that’s been lost elsewhere,” said Annett of the Weweantic River’s migratory fish.

That’s why the Coalition is beginning a process to restore the river at Horseshoe Mill, a former industrial site in Wareham where the dam is located. We purchased this property in 2012 with an eye toward a renewed future in which fish, wildlife, and people could experience the Bay’s largest freshwater river at its full potential.

The main goal of this restoration project is to improve passage and habitat for migratory fish and other aquatic species. Restoring the Weweantic River at this spot will also allow coastal habitats to adapt to rising sea levels, which pose a particular threat to the important rainbow smelt spawning riffle just below the dam.

“It’s not just that fish love to use that spot,” said Annett, describing the head of tide where the dam is located. “Fish need to use that spot, but that spot is deteriorating and it’s limited.”

Through these restoration efforts, the Coalition hopes to make the river better for people, too. By enhancing safe recreational access to the land and water, visitors will be able to enjoy Horseshoe Mill for hiking, fishing, and paddling, while learning about the story of the site’s ecological and industrial history.

Earlier this month, the Coalition kicked off a feasibility study for the Weweantic River restoration project with a public meeting in Wareham, where we shared information about the river’s challenges and gathered input from the community on how best to move forward. Now, with a grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, we have hired an engineering firm to develop and examine a variety of restoration alternatives, which will be presented back to the community in spring.

Our vision to restore the Weweantic River at Horseshoe Mill is similar to the recently completed restoration at The Sawmill in Acushnet. A dam there used to block herring from migrating upstream to spawn. After the dam was lowered and a nature-like fishway was constructed in 2008, river herring populations increased dramatically. The Coalition also restored natural areas at The Sawmill and added paths, river overlooks, a canoe launch, and a learning center. Thousands of local residents can now walk, canoe, fish, and explore the outdoors at this new public park.

Category: On the Land

Current Issues

Restoring Streams & Wetlands

The Coalition is working to restore damaged streams and wetlands in places like the Acushnet River, the Weweantic River, and the Mattapoisett River to protect clean water and improve the health of the Bay ecosystem so fish, wildlife, and people can thrive.

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Working to Save Buzzards Bay

The Buzzards Bay Coalition is a membership-supported organization dedicated to improving the health of the Buzzards Bay ecosystem for all through education, conservation, research, and advocacy.

We work to protect clean water on the Bay and on the land: