Herring Alliance Blog
Insights from Herring Alliance members, outside experts and fishermen
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.
There have been numerous reports over the last few weeks in which large numbers of menhaden have been dying around Long Island Sound, in the coastal waters of New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Maybe you’ve even seen – or smelled – such a fish kill on a beach near you. Recent reports have noted many thousands of dead menhaden on shore.
Large die-offs often occur when schools of menhaden, fleeing voracious predators like bluefish or striped bass, escape into nearshore waters where they can suffocate from insufficient levels of oxygen in the water. Such events are usually limited to small areas, like estuaries and river mouths, and occur in late summer when oxygen levels are lowest. But it’s only June, so why the massive and widespread early deaths? There are a few opinions out there.
Now that it's the middle of May, we're beginning to hear reports on the river herring runs around New England. Counters have been counting, cameras have been recording, and the annual spring migration of alewives up the streams has likely peaked, at least in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. It was a slow start to the season, with our unseasonably cold temperatures in March, but optimism prevailed throughout April. Now we're hearing reports that the numbers are off, even way off, in some rivers.
Ocean predators like whales, tuna and seabirds make annual migrations, travelling long distances to find the food they need to survive and to raise their young. Their meal of choice is a swirling school of small nutrient-rich fish, like herring and sand lance. But what if they arrived at their usual buffet, and found nothing there? Or what if a different fish was there instead, but less nutritious or the wrong size?
On December 11, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted to take a proactive approach in how they will handle new fisheries that target forage fish, the small fish like herring that provide a critical link in ocean food webs. In much of U.S. federal waters, new fisheries begin when a market can be found for a new species, and a commercial fishing interest decides to go out and catch it.