River Herring

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NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NE

Status of Fishery Resources off the Northeastern US: River herring

1998
Resource Evaluation and Assessment Division
Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Stephen H. Clark, Editor


River Herring

by J. Kocik

Tables:

Gulf of Maine - Middle Atlantic River Herring

Recreational catches and commercial landings

The term "river herring" is applied collectively to alewife, Alosa pseudoharengus, and blueback herring, Alosa aestivalis. The coastal range of the blueback herring is from Nova Scotia to Florida; the coastal range of the alewife extends from Labrador to South Carolina. In coastal rivers where ranges overlap, fisheries for these species are typically mixed. Both species are anadromous and undertake upriver spawning migrations during spring. Alewives may live as long as 10 years and reach a length of 36 cm (14 in.). Blueback herring live for about 7 or 8 years and reach a maximum length of about 32 cm (13 in.).

Alewives spawn in spring when water temperatures are between 16o C and 19o C; blueback herring spawn later in spring, when water temperatures are about 5o C warmer. Fecundity and age at maturity for both species are similar. Between 60,000 and 300,000 eggs are produced per female; most individuals are sexually mature at age 4. River herring have supported one of the oldest documented fisheries in North America. It was exclusively a U.S. inshore fishery until the late 1960s, when distant-water fleets began fishing for river herring off the Mid-Atlantic coast. The principal fishing gears used to catch river herring are fish weirs, pound nets, and gill nets. Recreational fishing is insignificant. The U.S. nominal catch averaged 24,800 mt annually between 1963 and 1969. Landings subsequently declined to an average of 4,000 to 5,000 mt until the mid-1980s; and more recently, to an average of about 500 mt from 1994-1996. The 1996 total (464 mt) nearly matched the record low of 423 mt in 1994. Maine, North Carolina and Virginia typically account for more than 90 percent of total landings from the Gulf of Maine through the Middle Atlantic.

In response to the observed decline in nominal catch and apparent resource conditions, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) has prepared a comprehensive coastwide management plan for shad and river herring, to facilitate cooperative management and restoration efforts between the states. However, recovery has not been consistent. Several river herring populations along the east coast are still being exploited at higher than optimal levels and a great deal of historic spawning habitat remains unavailable. The dramatic decline in landings since the mid-1960s reflects substantial declines in resource abundance since that time.


For further information

Crecco, V.A. and M. Gibson. 1990. Stock assessment of river herring from selected Atlantic coast rivers. Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Washington, D.C. ASMFC Spec. Rpt. No. 19.

Harris, P.J. and R.A. Rulifson. 1989. Investigations of ocean landings for American shad and river herring from United States East Coast waters. Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Washington, D.C. ASMFC Spec. Rept. No. 18.

Richkus, W. A. and G. DiNardo. 1984. Current status and biological characteristics of the anadromous alosid stocks of eastern United States: American shad, hickory shad, alewife, and blueback herring. Martin Marietta Environmental Center, Columbia, MD.


Gulf of Maine - Middle Atlantic River Herring

  
Long-term potential catch= Unknown
SSB for long-term potential catch= Unknown
Importance of recreational fishery= Minor
Management= Interstate FMP for Shad and River Herring
Status of exploitation= Varies by stock
Age at 50% maturity  = 2 to 4 years (varies by latitude)
Size at 50% maturity= 28 cm (11.0 in.)
Assessment level= Index
Overfishing definition= None
Fishing mortality rate corresponding to overfishing definition= N/A

M = Variable; F0.1 = Variable; Fmax = Variable; F1996 = Variable


 

River Herring Graph

Recreational catches and commercial landings (thousand metric tons)

Year
Category
1977-86 Average
1987
1988
1989
1990
1991
1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
U.S. Recreational Commercial
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
United States
4.9
2.5
2.5
1.5
1.2
1.3
1.5
0.7
0.4
0.6
0.4
Canada
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
Other
1.0
<0.1
<0.1
<0.1
<0.1
<0.1
<0.1
<0.1
<0.1
<0.1
<0.1
Total Nominal Catch
5.9
2.5
2.5
1.5
1.2
1.3
1.5
0.7
0.4
0.6
0.4