Progress for River Herring and American Shad

After years of wide-ranging support led by the Herring Alliance, fishermen, and other concerned stakeholders, yesterday the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted through Amendment 14 to their Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish Management Plan, despite significant pressure by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to delay and weaken protections.

The Council voted for the first time in favor of important reforms to the industrial mackerel fishery in federal waters off the Mid-Atlantic coast. Key outcomes included a recommendation for 100 percent at-sea observer coverage on industrial mackerel trawlers and a commitment to develop an annual limit on catch of river herring and shad throughout the mackerel fishery. These were two of the major goals of the Herring Alliance and its partners.

The Council also showed its continuing commitment to protecting river herring and shad by voting to initiate Amendment 15 to add them as “stocks in the fishery,” which would give these important little fish regulatory protections to help promote their recovery.

Late in the game, the NMFS attorney convinced the Council it only had the power to “recommend” full observer coverage rather than “require” it. In general, the representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration argued for fewer improvements and further delays, and opposed taking action on much of the Herring Alliance’s priorities throughout the day. Fortunately, significant local and regional support kept the Council firm in their commitment to reduce catch of river herring and shad in the mackerel fishery.

Herring Alliance members reminded the Council of the tens of thousands of public comments they have received in support of river herring and shad catch caps. A letter from 25 members of Congress supporting a cap was cited at the meeting as another reason to support these limits. There was broad consensus about the need for a cap to limit river herring and shad catch at sea.

Next week, river herring get another chance for protection on the East Coast. In Portland, Maine, on June 20, the New England Fishery Management Council will consider incorporating management provisions in the Atlantic herring fishery. Following this milestone decision in the Mid-Atlantic, this could be river herring’s big opportunity to be protected up and down the East Coast.

Thank you for all of your public comments, actions, and support, all of which were a major factor in this success. Let’s look to next week to follow this precedent-setting decision!