Herring Alliance Blog
Insights from Herring Alliance members, outside experts and fishermen
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.
More herring in the ecosystem and river herring protections finalized
We have some good news to share on the ongoing work to protect forage fish in New England.
On Thursday, November 20, the New England Fishery Management Council made a bold decision that could benefit the entire Northwest Atlantic ecosystem. Although the collapse of Gulf of Maine cod dominated the meeting, the Council and NOAA Fisheries took a step toward considering the larger ecosystem when setting catch limits for Atlantic herring – important food for cod and other animals.
In Virginia, Friends of the Rappahannock organizes students to restore oyster beds and control streamside erosion.
In Rhode Island, volunteers scoop nets full of migrating river herring up and over an obsolete mill dam.
In Maryland, citizen-scientists don hip waders to take samples of the aquatic life in Mattawoman creek.
These groups and dozens of others like them are the very epitome of "grass roots," community-level conservation, and the Herring Alliance is proud that they are members.