New England Fisheries

Council Makes a Wrong Move for River Herring

The proposed management measures for Atlantic herring include river herring and shad catch caps. Photo Credit: Darlyne A. Murawski.

This post was originally featured on the Herring Alliance blog.

The New England Fishery Management Council has again shown that they are unwilling to protect river herring and shad at sea. Last week at their meeting in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the Council voted to increase the amount of river herring and shad that can be caught by the herring fleet, even though the current caps have not even been in place for one year, and no science was presented suggesting that these populations have recovered. This is the wrong move. It is a slap in the face to all the people who work tirelessly to improve habitat and water quality in the hope that these fish will return to New England’s rivers and streams, and to the recreational fishermen who have respected state bans on catch for over a decade.

In September 2013, the Council voted to implement caps on river herring and shad catch in order to reduce catch of these depleted species. While they could have done more, at the time we were glad to see them set the caps at a level that had the potential to incentivize the industrial herring fleet to avoid river herring and shad. Now the Council has taken a step backwards for conservation of these species; last week’s vote will increase the amount allowed to be killed at sea by 16 percent overall. Most egregiously, in Southern New England, the cap will increase by 38 percent and off Cape Cod by a whopping 143 percent. This comes on the heels of a terrible season for river herring spawning runs. As we have reported, the runs in Rhode Island and Connecticut were some of the lowest on record this past spring. Some years there are more, some years less, but on the whole, no one would argue that we are anywhere close to seeing a full recovery in New England. In light of this, the Council’s vote to increase the amount of river herring and shad that can be legally caught at sea is shameful.

Although most Council members voted for this increase, several state employees on the Council did express concern about raising the cap. Dr. David Pierce from Massachusetts Dept. of Marine Fisheries, Mark Alexander from Connecticut Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection, and Mark Gibson of Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife acknowledged that there were poor river herring returns in 2015 and they questioned increasing river herring bycatch. Unfortunately, the commercial fishery for Atlantic herring still holds too much influence, and there were not enough votes for status quo, or for options to reduce the caps.

Responsibility to right this wrong now rests with NOAA. They must reject the Council’s flawed plan to increase bycatch of these depleted species, and NOAA should implement caps that will reduce the amount of river herring and shad caught at sea. Herring Alliance partner Earthjustice sent a letter to NOAA asking them to do just that. If you feel moved to do so, please send an email to Regional Administrator John Bullard and tell him you agree with the Earthjustice letter and that river herring and shad deserve better.

We’ll keep you posted on more ways to get involved so that this plan to increase the caps does not move forward. Thanks for all your support!


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