River Herring Moratorium Continued for Three More Years

On October 2, 2008 the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission approved the continuation of a moratorium on the harvest, possession and sale of river herring in the Commonwealth for another three years through 2011. The decision extends the original three year moratorium that has been in effect since January 2006. Other states including Connecticut, Rhode Island and North Carolina have also closed their fisheries for river herring and the National Marine Fisheries Service has listed both species of river herring (alewife, Alosa pseudoharengus and blueback herring,  A. aestivalis) as species of concern due to an overall decline coast-wide.

The moratorium was extended because of a lack of recovery of river herring runs in the Commonwealth and surrounding regions. All available information indicated that the number of spawning river herring entering the runs in spring of 2008 remained well below average and mortality remained high.  But there is some good news - the moratorium appears to have helped stabilize the numbers in the runs at a lower level, and many of our runs exhibited a slight increase in the number of spawning fish in 2008 (see Powerpoint presentation given at the public hearing pdf format of River Herring Moratorium Public Hearing Presentation
), suggesting that recovery is underway.  Three more years of moratorium will allow the maximum number of spawners to complete an entire life cycle, thus increasing the probability of stock recovery.

During the initial closure period, research has focused on establishing better ways to monitor the runs, determining the population mortality rates, and on examining possible causes of the population declines.  MarineFisheries staff spent considerable time on examining the by-catch of river herring in the sea herring pelagic fisheries (mid-water trawling, mid-water pair trawling, small-mesh trawling, and purse seining) and its impacts on river herring populations. A study entitled " Estimates of River Herring By-catch in the Directed Atlantic Herring Fishery pdf format of River Herring Bycatch Study
file size 1MB "  co-authored by Matthew Cieri (Maine Department of Marine Resources) and Gary Nelson and Michael Armstrong (MarineFisheries) released on Sept. 23, provides estimates of river herring by-catch in the directed sea herring fisheries from 2005 through 2007. By-catch estimates were derived from sea sampling data from the NMFS Observer Program and the Maine Department of Marine Resources (MEDMR) Portside Sampling Project which sampled Atlantic herring and mackerel catches at processing plants and bait dealerships from Maine to New Jersey.  The study identified areas and times of year where river herring by-catch occurs.  About 70% of all sea herring trips contain no river herring by-catch and only a very small number have significant quantities.  The total weight of river herring by-catch in the sea herring pelagic fishery ranged from 285,000 to 1.7 mill pounds per year.  While significant, this amount of mortality is not sufficient to cause the coastwide decline of the river herring stocks and so there must be other, currently unidentified factors contributing to mortality.

Currently, the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission is developing Amendment 2 to its Interstate Fishery Management Plan for shad and river herring to address stock declines and control fishing mortality.  MarineFisheries is making significant contributions to the formulation of this assessment and continues to lead river herring restoration efforts in the Commonwealth by continuing to monitor the health of river herring populations and thus building upon the existing time-series for certain runs and also creating new ones.  Other restoration efforts include increasing river herring access to historical spawning habitat through dam removal and fishway construction as well as transplanting spawning adults into rivers to augment current population levels and to re-introduce river herring to rivers where runs have been extirpated.