April 5, 2016

Southern New England River Herring Decline in 2015

Between 2012 and 2014, Connecticut restored more than 150 miles of freshwater habitat for both species of river herring (blueback herring and alewives) after overfishing at sea and lack of river herring access to spawn areas caused their depletion. So last year, when there was a substantial decline of river herring, fisheries officials became concerned. 

The Pew Charitable Trusts reported that conservation groups and Connecticut and Rhode Island officials saw significant drops in herring runs in the rivers and streams they monitor. A Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection fisheries biologist noted that one premier run was “off by at least 100,000.”

Because river quality and weather did not deviate significantly from prior years, some fisheries officials believe the marine environment may be contributing to the decline.  Buckeye Brook Coalition vice president Paul Earnshaw suspects the river herring “bycatch,” the incidental capture of non-targeted species by offshore fishing is a large part of the problem.   

Even though the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) places annual Atlantic herring fishery limits,  the lack of monitoring and oversight makes the “bycatch caps” ineffective, Pew reports.  NEFMC reassesses the annual catch limits every three years. It approved the new limits, effective for 2016 to 2018, in September 2015.  Additional information can be found on their website.