New England Fisheries

Care about river herring? Then pay attention this week!

Recently we covered the pending bans on fishing for river herring in most Atlantic state waters. But what protections are afforded to these fish when they travel beyond states’ jurisdiction three miles from shore into federally-controlled waters? Unfortunately, none. As Roger Fleming of Earthjustice pointed out, there is essentially an unregulated fishery for river herring in federal waters with no plan in place to monitor and limit their capture.

River herring return to their natal rivers to spawn each spring. (Photo credit: Mike Laptew)

Every year, an estimated three million pounds[1] of river herring, or roughly 12 million fish, are accidently caught by fishing vessels that are targeting other species such as Atlantic (or sea) herring and mackerel on the East Coast. In some instances, a quarter of a million river[2] herring have been caught in a single net tow of a New England midwater trawler, far more fish than return to many of the region’s rivers and streams each year to spawn.

Responding to this concern, 32 watershed associations, herring wardens and environmental groups, including Conservation Law Foundation, recently submitted a letter to Governor Patrick requesting that Massachusetts support, not undermine, river herring restoration efforts by advancing meaningful protection for river herring in the Atlantic herring fishery.

This coming Thursday is a big day for herring at the New England Fishery Management Council meeting in Danvers, Mass. The Council will hopefully approve a range of options to monitor and reduce bycatch of river herring in the Atlantic herring fishery.

What can you do to make a difference?

Attend the meeting this week. Speak up and remind the full Council that states and communities throughout New England have invested in restoring herring runs. River herring bycatch in the sea herring fishery is long-unaddressed concern that demands effective action, with no further delays.

Email or call your Council representative today. Tell them to support river herring recovery by advancing a strong set of protections to minimize their catch in federal waters. Let them know you would like the provisions outlined in the above letter to be advanced for public comment.

Sign a petition. Help support similar efforts in the Mid-Atlantic, where there is also a plan to monitor and reduce bycatch of river herring and shad by the squid and mackerel fisheries.

For more information, visit

[1] Lessard R.B., Bryan M.D. (2011). At-sea distribution and fishing impact on river herring and shad in the NW Atlantic.

[2] Northeast Fisheries Observer Program


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