Heavy Lift: New England UPS Driver Rescued Tons of Fish, One Net at a Time

Volunteer Bill McWha at the Main Street Dam in Wakefield, Rhode Island, where he has led efforts since 2010 to lift river herring over a dam so they can reach their spawning grounds.

UPS driver Bill McWha had just moved to Wakefield, Rhode Island, in 2010 when he decided to check out his town’s main river. From the banks of the Saugatucket River, McWha was horrified by what he saw: thousands of migrating river herring stuck at a dam, unable to swim over to reach their spawning sites.

So he took matters into his own hands. The next day, McWha returned to the river with a net, positioned himself on a 14-foot beam that had washed ashore during a flood, and started lifting 10 to 15 fish at a time over the Main Street Dam. Many passersby shook their heads, but others were curious. After he explained that he was helping a fish species reproduce, about a dozen of them joined his cause.

Volunteer Bill McWha at the Main Street Dam in Wakefield, Rhode Island, where he has led efforts since 2010 to lift river herring over a dam so they can reach their spawning grounds.

During the ensuing three weeks, McWha and his helpers tossed about 20,000 fish over the dam, allowing them to continue a migration that usually happens every March and April.

State wildlife officials, whom McWha informed about his rescue efforts, saw an opportunity to further help the state’s fisheries: They took 2,000 of the fish to stock a nearby pond in hopes of jump-starting a herring run on another river.

“I knew the fish were in trouble, and I just felt terrible,” explained the 65-year-old McWha, who developed a passion for fish in the fifth grade after learning how salmon returned to their birthplaces to spawn.

“I thought, ‘What a waste that these herring weren’t going to be able to spawn.’ I felt an emotional connection to them, and I just had to get them over the dam.”

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