National Policy

Tell NMFS to use the best available science in considering river herring protection

This week, a federal district court judge ruled that the govnernment has not adequately protected river herring (like the one above) from overfishing (Photo credit: Chris Bowser, NY State Department of Environmental Conservation).

Alewife and blueback herring, collectively known as “river herring,” are a linchpin of the Atlantic ecosystem and key prey species for countless marine and freshwater animals. But today, where millions of these fish once swam, they now number in the thousands, or even mere hundreds. In August, because of the perilous status of this important species, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to have alewife and blueback herring listed as a “threatened species” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This would mean that without substantial intervention, river herring are likely to become endangered and eventually extinct throughout all or significant portions of their ranges.

In response to the petition, NMFS agreed that a “threatened” listing may be warranted, and it will now take the next twelve months to conduct a scientific review that will determine the next course of action. If river herring are listed under the ESA, they will be better protected against bycatch in ocean fisheries, which studies estimate kills roughly 12 million fish annually, and they will also be better protected against water pollution, dams and other harms.

In order to ensure that NMFS undertakes a comprehensive and fully-independent scientific review and does not cut corners or cave to outside pressures, we need you to reach out to NMFS and ask that its review of the status of river herring be based on the best available science. Click here to send your comments to NMFS and help protect river herring!


2 Responses to Tell NMFS to use the best available science in considering river herring protection

  • Russell Schell says:

    The relatively small numbers of adult river herring counted in Cape Cod herring runs each Spring indicates that a “threatened status” category is appropriate for river herring.

  • jddegraaf says:

    When a species is listed, the entire population must be considered as well as the cost the potential listing would have on states, municipalities, landowners, and fishermen. Small numbers of river herring in Cape Code does not justify listing all river herring along the east coast. In Maine for example, river herring populations are growing and the state is making very big strides towards improving habitat, reconnecting habitats via dam and other barrier removal projects, etc. For a state such as Maine that is making very positive steps forward for the species and where populations are generally good, a listing of threatened could be detrimental to the economy of that state, impose stiff regulations on commercial fishermen, etc. A listing could cause municipalities to be forced into installing fish passage structures that they can’t afford or improving water quality for discharged water (again, costly). Not that these requirements would be bad for the environment or river herring, but simply costly. A listing could also reduce a fisherman’s ability to use river herring as bait for lobster fishing in the spring. There are a lot of diverse factors that must be considered and weighed before making a ruling besides just evaluating population numbers. The science behind how the population numbers were derived must also be considered. For example, observational data acquired by use of sub-contracted labor as part of the NMFS observer program may be fraught with human error; how accurate are the data if an observer makes mistakes in noting blueback herring vs alewife, etc? The data, how the data was collected, and the various models used to calculate population numbers need to be considered as well.

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