River herring have made a strong and early return to Squibnocket Pond this year, reflecting a hopeful trend statewide. Dredging efforts over the winter in the Gay Head Herring Creek are being partly credited for the rebound.

As of Friday, more than 10,200 herring were recorded on an underwater camera in the creek, returning to their seasonal spawning grounds. Andrew Jacobs, manager of the Wampanoag Environmental Laboratory, which has monitored the annual migration for the past five years, said the fish usually can be seen in large numbers near the beginning of May. This year, he said the migration began as early as March 23.

“It happened the first day we deployed the camera. We immediately started seeing them,” Mr. Jacobs said. “We don’t know if we are going to have more fish than last year until the end of the season. But we are seeing the fish early, so our numbers are up earlier.”

Operated by the tribe, the underwater camera runs footage through specialized fish-counting software. Herring are a forage fish, vital to the local marine food chain. In addition to counting herring, the camera monitors otters, jellyfish, glass eels and other species linked to the river herring ecosystem.

In recent decades, herring stocks have been dramatically depleted along the Eastern seaboard. Historically, Squibnocket Pond had an estimated population of over 750,000 river herring at its peak spawning season. Based on findings from the tribe’s underwater camera, only 36,626 herring passed through the run to spawn last year.

Mr. Jacobs said strong numbers early in the season can be due to a variety of factors. Full lunar cycles and large rain events, both of which occurred recently, could trigger an early return. And after a mild winter, the water temperature in Menemsha Pond is warmer this year than at this time last year.

But the herring run also was improved over the winter in a dredging project that was partially completed. The project carved a deeper channel on the Squibnocket side of the creek, leaving a 13-foot wide stream that is now two and a half feet deep.

“The dredging is significant,” Mr. Jacobs said. “[Last year] there were very high averages of predation and they would only run on a full tide when water was at its deepest,” he said. “Now they can run on all tides.”

The dredging project was forced to halt to protect winter flounder during their spawning season. Plans call for the project to resume in July, after the herring have left their spawning grounds.

Mr. Jacobs said the early return of river herring is a statewide trend this year, with Weymouth and Harwich also reporting an early start to herring migration in creeks.

Underwater video footage is available for public viewing on the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Natural Resources Department Facebook page. e are encouraging people to watch the videos with their kids. They can email and ask questions,” Mr. Jacobs said. “We are trying to use it as a tool for people to recognize the importance of managing a fishery and being good to Island resources.”