It's Time to Speak Up for River Herring – Hearings about Bycatch in March

After years of wondering and worrying about river herring being caught as bycatch in the Atlantic herring fishery, we finally have the opportunity to DO something about it. Due in large part to the efforts of watershed associations, recreational fishermen, herring wardens, environmental organizations, and river herring enthusiasts, the New England Marine Fisheries Management Council has put river herring on the agenda.

The Council is responsible for writing Fishery Management Plans for all fisheries within the federal Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which are the waters from 3 to 200 miles from shore. The original plan for the Atlantic Herring Fishery was written in 1999, and the Council is now working on Amendment 5 to the Plan. Amendment 5 contains several different management options for collecting data on the quantity of river herring are caught in federal waters, and for minimizing that catch. The Council plans to vote on the final measures in June of 2012.

The Council is looking for comments on which options to choose, and that is where you can help.

The public hearing document that explains the proposed management measures can be found here.

The hearings in Massachusetts are being held on the following dates

  • Gloucester, Wednesday, March 14
  • Fairhaven, Monday, March 19
  • Plymouth, Tuesday, March 27

The full list of hearings with locations, dates and times can be found here.

The Council will accept written comments by mail or email until April 9. Written comments can be sent to the address below, and emails can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Attention/Subject Line: Herring Amendment 5 Comments).

Mr. Paul Howard

New England Fishery Management Council

50 Water Street

Newburyport, MA 01950

Stay tuned to the River Herring Network blog and the Forum for discussion on what management measures will be most likely to protect river herring.


-Abby Franklin, March 13. 2012



River Herring Network Secures 2012 Funding

I've got some good news to share with you all.  The Massachusetts Bays Program has granted the River Herring Network another small grant for 2012 to continue building the website as a resource, providing technical workshops for wardens and stakeholders, and to refine the best management practices with you all!

To that end, you'll be hearing a lot more from us this spring.  We'll try to get something together before the runs start and we'll help recruit volunteers for your count programs.  Let us know what you'd like to see the Network do this year!  Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your suggestions!


In other news, the New England Fishery Management Council will be making a decision this spring on including river herring bycatch measures in the sea herring fishery management plan.  Please check out the Latest News section and the Forum for more information on hearings, public comment periods, and background information on these changes that could help river herring.


Does anyone think that the weird winter weather will impact when the herring will return to the runs this year??


--Melissa Sanderson


Our vision

Throughout Massachusetts nearly every coastal town has at least one river or stream that is, or has been a river herring run. Alewife and blueback herring (River Herring) have always been an important food source  for humans on the Atlantic coast  but this once abundant fish stock is now in severe decline coast wide. One indicator of this decline is that the Mid-Atlantic coast fishery peaked in the late 1950s at nearly 34,000 mt before declining to less than 4000 mt in the late 1970s. During the last decade (1996-2005), annual landings have varied between 300 and 900 mt  (NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service Northeast Fisheries Science Center Dec, 2006). In 2006, Massachusetts implemented a moratorium on possessing river herring in order to protect the population.


Many factors such as overfishing and the catch of river herring as by-catch in other fisheries have led to the decline of river herring, but the easiest factor to see and fix is habitat degradation in their spawning grounds. Since the 1700s the water ways the herring migrate through have become impaired with natural and man made obstructions. A successful migration may lead them through streams and into ponds and lakes that have poor water quality which decreases the annual yield of the young of the year.

In many areas around Massachusetts there are maintenance and habitat restoration projects that are taking place to help give these fish a fighting chance at recovery. These projects can be as small as clearing the debris from a clogged stream or as large as excavating an entire road to install a new culvert for better passage. Regardless of the project, it is most likely led by a River Herring Warden, Herring committees, watershed organizations, volunteers, and private groups. These people put countless hours into caring for runs, and many are experts in their respective fields and environments. The work done does not just benefit river herring populations - it supports the protection of coastal habitats. Wardens and their helpers have worked to create local regulations and have developed water quality monitoring programs to protect the rivers and spawning grounds.

The information learned over their numerous collective years of experience is often not shared with each other. Most professions have a professional society of some sort to turn to for opportunities for learning and collaboration. River herring wardens have had no such network.. This situation not only puts new river herring wardens at a huge disadvantage since they basically learn everything from scratch, but  also  prevents innovative ideas from being  passed along, built upon, and applied to other runs. River herring populations can benefit from herring wardens just simply talking together.

We now have the opportunity to form a network and learn from each other, learn from mistakes and successes on other runs, increase our long term ability to address river herring resource management issues, and work together to achieve the recovery of the river herring runs in Massachusetts and New England.
The goals of this, “River Herring Network” are to support herring wardens in their role as active participants in fisheries management processes, encourage communication among wardens and those that work with them, document and communicate the natural and cultural history of the herring runs in Massachusetts. Our goal for this website is to provide a place to ask questions of each other,discuss experiences and knowledge, develop collaborative projects, and to create an online forum for wardens and advocates to talk about what they are seeing, and what work has to be done, .
I can't begin to tell you how happy I am to have written this and to ask for your input for both this Network and to work together to aid in the recovery of such an important species in both our local and Atlantic coast food webs. 
 Jeff Hughes, Wellfleet Herring Warden.