Skip directly to content

Fishery Council Votes to Protect Herring, Caps Incidental Overfishing



A recent pioneering decision by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) to cap the amount of river herring and shad bycatch shows increasing awareness by players in the fishing industry and its regulators about the importance of ecosystem conservation.


A year ago the New England Fishery Management Council voted to increase reporting and at-sea observation of herring bycatch by industrial trawlers in the Atlantic Ocean, so that there is better data on the volume of bycatch.  A week before that, the MAMFC had recommended similar at-sea observation measures, as well as a plan to limit the amount of river herring and shad catch in the regional mackerel industry by 2014.


The Pew Environment Group was instrumental in generating activism around the issue both in Congress and among the general public.

It continues to collaborate with the Herring Alliance to increase awareness about herring and shad conservation, including a push to get the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to list river herring and shad under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Currently they are listed as National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) species of concern and candidate species, which means they are under review as potentially at risk. Both the Pew Environment Group and Herring Alliance have announced that a final decision as to whether to list these species as threatened is due later this summer.

Shad are freshwater herring in the forager category, which feed on phytoplankton and have a wide range of predators, including striped bass, bluefish, sturgeon, tuna, shark, king mackerel seabirds, and marine mammals like seals. They spawn in fresh water, travel to the ocean during adolescence and return to their point of origination when mature. Across the Atlantic coast shad and herring levels have fallen by nearly 98 percent in the last 50 years. While river habitats have improved overall because of reduced industrial operations, levels have continued to decrease because of incidental commercial overfishing.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council petition to the NMFS to list two types of herring - alewife and blueback herring - as a threatened species and designate a critical habitat, herring populations have dwindled to near zero on the St. Croix River on the Maine-Canada border, dropped by more than 85 percent in two rivers in Mass. in the last 10 years, 95 percent in the Connecticut River, 99 percent in the Potomac River in Maryland over 50 years, and 98 percent in North Carolina's Ablemarle Sound.

Based on the MAFMC decision, fisheries that fail to comply with the new caps on herring bycatch will no longer be able to operate.

There are programs already in place in the fishing industry to help fisheries network on avoiding sensitive locations for bycatch. The SMAST Yellowtail Bycatch Avoidance Program is one them and highlights the importance of comprehensive industry participation in reducing the incidence of harmful bycatch.

A video from the Herring Alliance explores the plight of river herring in the northeast United States: