A Day in Nature

Blueback Herring in the Charles River

My son, like so many other 12 year old boys, is drawn to video games — in fact, I worry that he spends too much time with them. So you can imagine my delight when he became equally drawn to a phenomenon in nature — namely, the annual Herring spawn.

Seagulls waiting to catch stray Herring at the Watertown Damn

We live in New England and April/May is the time when Blueback Herring make their pilgrimage en masse up the rivers and estuaries to spawn. It is an amazing event from many perspectives — their sheer numbers are staggering, the distance they travel is impressive, and their laser focus on spawning makes them ignorant and vulnerable to numerous predators such as seagulls and 12 year old boys.

Max trying to catch a Herring with his hands

I enjoyed watching my son and several other boys about the same age try to figure out how to catch them … with nothing but their hands and their wits. It’s not that we didn’t have a net or a fishing rod; it’s that they’re not allowed. The fish are in a steep decline at the moment and thus protected by law in Massachusetts. The Fed is still waffling about the data.

The boys tried all sorts of strategies from aligning rocks into funnels and damns to herding with stomping and splashing. It was all very clever. It was occasionally cooperative. There was a bit of competition as well. Every boy caught at least one and some caught several. The boys would admire their catch for a moment, make sure the other boys witness the catch, then released them. Most importantly, it was four solid hours in nature and away from technology.