This is must-see TV.

Once you tune in, it will be hard to turn away from this 24-hour streaming service. And you don’t need to share passwords to get your fix. 

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has turned on the tube. It is not YouTube, but FishTube. The Tribe’s Herring Cam ( is active, and it is quite riveting.   

Designed and installed to count herring, it captures so much more — with monitors (and online viewers) seeing more than 36 other species that swim past the cam. The Herring Cam is located in Herring Creek, which connects Menemsha Pond to Squibnocket Pond. Navigating it is a rite of passage and part of a journey that river herring undertake annually. 

River herring, including alewife and blueback herring species, are anadromous fish. That means the fish live split lifecycles, thriving in both fresh and salt water at different times of the year. In Vineyard waters, their seasonal cycle begins in mid to late March when they come from the ocean into freshwater streams and ponds to spawn or breed.   

Spawning season runs from March through June. The fish will stay in the ponds until fall when the fry swim back out into the ocean. The adults return annually and babies will ultimately return to their natal nursery once they reach sexual maturity (after approximately three years) to begin the cycle anew. 

Herring is an important fish for the tribe, who have historical and cultural traditions entwined with the species. Wampanoags use herring for food, bait and fertilizer; and the arrival of the fish heralds the beginning of spring and the replenishment of a vital food source after the long winter. Besides humans, river herring also feed otters, striped bass and many other wildlife species. 

During the late 20th century, the number of herring plummeted. The decline has been blamed on commercial trawlers scooping up unsustainable numbers of fish, and the degradation of their habitat, especially the streams and rivers through which they spawn. The rivers have been affected by erosion, storms, poor water quality, road construction and damming of these needed waterways. Even with a moratorium of harvesting these fish, their numbers have not rebounded.   

Locally the same has been true. One Wampanoag elder described catching fish with her hands as a child, and photos of historic harvests show their once-plentiful bounty with herring ankle-deep as people harvested them. In the mid-1990s, reports of herring numbers in Squibnocket Pond exceeded 300,000. In the last few years, the Herring Cam has counted 30,000 or 40,000 moving past the camera into the pond. 

The Herring Cam show is now in its seventh season and there is no end in sight to this compelling drama. Twists and turns in these fish stories are now being discovered as the project has progressed to include the tagging of fish to monitor their trials and tribulations. In the last few years, five hundred fish have been tagged and followed. 

We don’t know how the story will end and there surely will be more red herrings in the tale. Keep watching and don’t worry about getting hooked — unless you are a fish.

Suzan Bellincampi is islands director for Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown and the Nantucket Wildlife Sanctuaries. She is also the author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.