New England Fisheries

Help Count River Herring (Because They Count, Too)

Fisheries managers should take an ecosystem-based approach, including protection for forage fish like these river herring. Photo credit: Mike Laptew

By Herring Alliance

Somewhere out there on our coast, out where rivers hit salt water, thousands of small fish are gathering, getting ready for an epic voyage inland. The annual run of river herring is about to start.

Hundreds of people are getting ready, too. They’re the volunteers who will gather at bridges, fish ladders and riverbanks to count the passing herring—an important exercise in citizen science that can help to conserve these imperiled fish.

Blueback herring and their cousins, the alewife, are in serious decline. For decades, dams blocked access to spawning areas while pollution and wetland destruction degraded riverine habitat. Fortunately, dams are going down, fish ladders are going up, and water quality has improved dramatically as more communities get engaged with watershed improvements.

But all that effort to protect these fish while they’re in the rivers can be wasted once the river herring go to sea, where they spend most of their lives. Too often, these fish get scooped up in the massive nets of the industrial trawlers fishing for Atlantic herring. The river-running fish frequently school with their ocean-based cousins. A single haul can take in more river herring than the volunteers are likely to count during the river runs. We need to protect the investment we’ve made in river conservation by protecting these fish while they’re at sea.

Things have gotten so bad for river herring that federal officials are expected to rule soon on a petition to list these fish as “threatened,” which would offer some protection under the Endangered Species Act. Whatever the decision, wildlife managers will need better information about the status of herring runs, and that’s where you can help.

The Herring Alliance is mapping the groups looking for volunteers to count fish, help monitor water quality, and pitch in to clean up rivers. It’s a great way to get involved and do your part to help bring river herring back.


View River Herring Runs in a larger map


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