News & Updates
Menhaden in the Moshassuck

Moshassuck Fish Census

2016 Census Recap

Menhaden Videos

1. Millions of Menhaden (1 minute, 44 seconds)
3. Adult Menhaden in Providence (1 minute, 44 seconds)
2. Menhaden Fishing Industry (9 minutes, 52 seconds)

September 2014 Providence Journal Article.

Menhaden in the Moshassuck September 2012

It's mid September and the menhaden are back in the lower Moshassuck. If the conditions are right, sun, rain, tide, temperature, then you can see thousands of small, 2 to 3 inch menhaden in schools in the river along Canal street. The menhaden excursion to downtown in September is something I have been watching since I moved to Providence in 1996.

It varies every year. Including when it arrives. This year is dominated by small fish. Their big sisters are around as I saw them in the Seekonk River today making some very sizable splashes. Several years ago the big ones came to downtown in huge numbers, estimated at 10,000 fish, and stayed for two months. For years the only ones I saw very small ones, first year mostly, But three times in the last 8 years large ones dominated. And some years you hardly see a one. Hopefully the days of none are behind us. The fish bring much to the urban core.

The places to see them are in the canal immediately north of the Citizens Bank building, going up Canal street. Especially fruitful has been the pool immediately north of bridge spanning the river at Park Row. Several times this summer a 40 inch eel was seen in the pool, but at shallow water the menhaden stand out against the wall in the middle of the river. Crabs are also a daily siting.

I wandered along the Woonasquatucket River this week as well and found an abundance of menhaden along the Promenade. I am a bit jealous of my friends at the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council their river is bigger and gets a lot more fish. The herring runs of spring are even more of a sign of ecological healing in the Woonie despite the superfund site.

Maybe that makes the sitings in the mighty Mo's estuary more of an enjoyment. They are harder to come by.

My favorite accompaniment to the menhaden run is found below the collapsing bridge below the Statehouse on Canal St. The broken bridge holds up a large pile of woody and trashy debris, with its bones being trees that have floated down the river. The pieces change, but the overall structure is pretty stable and survives floods. The bridge may not survive many more big storms. But until it washes out to sea the herons, Great Blue and Night will use it for refuge and hunting. This morning i saw the Night Heron nab a little fish and swallow hard. Yesterday it was a young Great Blue that I greeted on my way to the office. Often the taxi drivers who wait at the taxi stand along the river on Canal and I converse about the birds and fish we see. Sometimes we do not share a vocal language, but gestures work.

Thats the news from the lower Moshassuck. I will be checking out the headwaters later in the week, and co leading a hike with The Nature Conservancy on September 22, so maybe a headwaters report will follow as well as updates if I see anything interesting at the North Burial Ground or along the tidewater.

Menhaden in the Moshassuck

In 1998 I founded Friends of the Moshassuck and have been intently watching the river ever since. I watch most of the lower half of the river, but walk along the tidal portion of the river, from just north of Smith St to the confluence with the Woonasquatucket River at least 4 days a week. I have watched the river in all seasons, at all times of day, in all tides. I have watched the river enough to actually be able to predict pretty well what life forms will be visible when. The highlight of every year in the river is the menhaden run from Mid August to late September/early October.

The Moshassuck is a small urban river that runs from near the Lincoln Mall into Downtown Providence, shallow enough that often one can see from Canal St. right to the bottom of the river. It is filled with the debris of urban life, including the ubiquitous shopping cart. The shallowness, combined with the view from Canal St giving one an opportunity to look straight down into the river, really allows people to see the life in the river. This year the highlight has been the large number of blue crabs that have frequented the river. Never before this year have I noticed the blue crabs that far inland.

The menhaden have been coming in to the river for as long as I have been watching. Every year about the middle of August they start appearing just above the Citizens Bank building, which sits at the confluence, extending as far north on occasion as just north of Smith St. The number of menhaden varies every year. I first noticed them about 2000, when there was a very large run in August and September, you felt you could walk across the river on their backs. The following years the runs were much smaller. If you looked frequently you saw some, but not every day, and only small schools were visible. 2005 was another bumper year for menhaden. They were everywhere in huge numbers. You saw them on all tides, again feeling you could cross the river on their backs. The run lasted until early October. Several times I saw flocks of gulls landing on the river and catching fish, a behavior I had never seen so close up before. I also frequent the Seekonk River at Swan Point cemetery. One does not normally get as good a look at the water there but what we are able to do is gauge the fish runs from the birds. But in 2005 you could see huge menhaden schools from the shore at high tides, they were swimming along the shore in schools 100 foot long. One school right after the other. On days with big schools readily apparent the gulls, cormorants, herons, egrets, and osprey were also very noticeable.

2006 had a much smaller run of menhaden than 2005 (I should note that as I write this the menhaden are still in the lower Moshassuck) but still larger than some of the other years of the last few. Schools are smaller, less frequent, spread further apart, and have not extended north of Smith St. The best watching this year has been in the basin between Citizens Bank and the remnants of the building that covers over the river, across from the Roger Williams Historic site. I have not observed a gull frenzy, nor have cormorants been frequent visitors, though I did notice a black capped night heron on several occasions.

The smaller runs have also been apparent on the Seekonk River with large bird feedings being relatively infrequent, though on one perfect low tide I observed 5 Great Blue Heron all catching fish while standing next to the reef right near the channel just off Swan Point.

2005 sticks out for several reasons. One was the previously mentioned gull feeding frenzy right downtown. Another was that on night there was a Waterfire and the menhaden were everywhere in huge numbers. The shiny bodies were showing up in the firelight and people were amazed. Everyone was commenting on the fish. And finally with the fish in the Moshassuck in huge numbers the predators moved in as well. It was interesting to nearly every day see some larger predatory fish move in among the schools. It was like the parting of the Red Sea when a bluefish would swim up with waves of menhaden parting to let them by. It was pretty clear that none of the menhaden wanted to be on the edge of the school, clearly the most vulnerable spots, so the fish were constantly circling back to be on the inside of the school.

This year I have extended my fish watching to the Providence River, along the walk on the eastern shore from Point St to downtown. Menhaden have been frequently noticeable, and one day I noticed a feeding frenzy directly under Rt 195. The Bluefish were chasing some fairly large schools of menhaden. The menhaden were so unnerved that several of them jumped right out of the river, landing on the shore and unable to return to the water. A mallard was eating the ones that landed on the shore. Also observable were the bluefish, though only as moving phantoms. One would see shapes about 9 inches long darting, and occasionally see a moving shape that was dragging a silvery menhaden through the water in its mouth. You could barely see the bluefish, but the silver menhaden were very visible and clearly not swimming despite their rapid motion.

Menhaden have been in Narragansett Bay probably since the glaciers left, but the industrialization of Providence and the covering over of the sewers that the rivers of Providence became probably excluded the menhaden from downtown through most of the 20th century. But the water is cleaner, the rivers have been daylighted and it is great to see the aquatic life that has returned to the City.


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© 2006-2015 Friends of the Moshassuck, all rights reserved. Images by and Mr. Ducke.