Herring, mackerel and other small schooling fish are food for the whole ecosystem, including marine mammals, birds, and larger fish like tuna and striped bass. But the expansion of industrial-scale fishing is jeopardizing these key prey species and the marine environments and coastal communities they support.
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.
Fisheries officials and watershed conservation groups have tallied the spring migratory runs of river herring, and in parts of southern New England, 2015 likely will go down as a particularly terrible year for these critically important forage fish. Reports from across Connecticut and Rhode Island show the number of migrating fish declining dramatically compared with recent years, leading one prominent biologist to call this year “the worst in history” in his state.
Over the past few weeks, both the New England and the Mid Atlantic Council have moved forward with improvements for managing forage fish. In addition, this past May the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission committed to develop ecosystem-based management for menhaden. First, we want to say “Thank you!” to all our supporters and coalition members who wrote letters, attended meetings and talked to decision makers about these issues. Your input makes a difference! Here is a brief summary of what happened.