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Further Research/Conservation Efforts

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) are committed to further research on and conservation of river herring through a number of ongoing efforts, many of which involve collaboration with partners. These include the below:

Restoration

NMFS is involved in restoration efforts that are both proactive and regulatory based in the northeast and southeast.  Proactive restoration is generally community efforts with funding through our Habitat Restoration. Major projects include the Penobscot River Habitat Focus Area where two mainstem dams were removed and a third will incorporate a nature-like bypass.  Visit the Restoration Efforts page for more information on these community efforts.

Restoration efforts are also supported by regulatory actions through the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act and Federal Power Act. These actions include improvements to migratory habitat by requiring upstream and downstream fishway construction. These regulatory actions are important in areas where proactive efforts are unlikely to occur.  In addition, there are instances where the regulatory efforts promote proactive restoration. For example, the Madison Electric Dam removal on the Sandy River, actions on the Penobscot River, and elsewhere started in the regulatory process and evolved into something more productive  using a proactive approach.  

Mitigating impacts from development and energy projects: NMFS is involved in mitigating impacts from development and energy projects in both the northeast and southeast. An example showing how river herring benefit from these authorities includes the below:

In August 2012, Green Island Power Authority (GIPA) received a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license for the Green Island Hydropower Project at the Troy Dam on the Hudson River. The license adopted requirements of a Settlement Agreement signed by NMFS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and GIPA in December 2009 which requires both upstream and downstream fish passage facilities be constructed at the site and extensive monitoring and maintenance plans be prepared to ensure fishways are operating as designed to safely and effectively pass fish. We are currently participating in post-license activities to ensure the terms of the license are met and safe, timely and effective passage is provided for the target species, including blueback herring, alewife, American shad, and American eel.

Species Overlap Tool

NMFS Greater Atlantic Region funded a Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) project to use environmental data collected as part of the NEFSC bottom trawl survey to model marine habitat preferences for alewife, blueback herring, Atlantic herring, and Atlantic mackerel. Habitat preferences were associated with bottom temperature, bottom salinity, depth, solar position, and region of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. The models will be coupled with oceanographic forecast models, and model accuracy will be evaluated through directed sampling with the cooperative research fleet. The ultimate project goal is to develop a river herring/ Atlantic herring/Atlantic mackerel overlap forecast tool for use by the Atlantic herring and Atlantic mackerel fisheries to minimize incidental river herring catches.

Habitat Blueprint

The Habitat Blueprint was designed to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of NOAA’s habitat work by facilitating strategic planning and action across NOAA line offices and with partner organizations. The Delmarva/Choptank River and Penobscot River are two of ten Habitat Focus Areas that have been selected as part of NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint Framework.

St. Croix Monitoring

NMFS (through ASMFC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) provided funding to the funding to the Atlantic Salmon Federation in 2014 and Atlantic Salmon Federation in 2015 to continue river herring counts at the Milltown Dam fishway in the St. Croix watershed. The work augmented a more than 30-year time series for alewife enumeration at the Milltown head of tide dam. This work also allowed for an evaluation of the rate of recolonization and identification of the proportion of blueback herring and alewives in the river herring run.

Fish Passage Activities 

The ASMFC Fish Passage Working Group (FPWG) is a collaboration of state, federal, and non-government organization  fish passage experts. Past and ongoing efforts of the FPWG contributing to the conservation of river herring include: prioritization of barriers in need of fish passage, recommendations of fish passage targets in each Atlantic Coast state, guidance to state agencies on participation in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s hydropower licensing process, and guidance on effective fish passage approaches. Additional information on FPWG efforts can be found on the ASMFC website.

Hydropower-Related Research

NMFS is working on the development of a life history-based model for the setting of quantitative-supported fish passage survival performance standards at FERC licensed hydroelectric facilities in the Northeast US. The first stage of the study focused on American shad and is well underway.  NMFS is working with a large group of collaborators from the northeast to fine-tune the developed models and incorporate new data as they become available.The first model for the second stage of the study, focused on river herring, is in the preliminary phases of development. Modifications to the American shad model based on differences in life history of river herring  will be instituted upon completion of these preliminary phases and pending available funds.

Performance standards refer to levels of upstream and downstream passage survival at each selected FERC project, accounting for direct, indirect and cumulative levels of mortality, that allow for the achievement of river and species-specific restoration or other conservation goals. NMFS anticipates that performance standards will be developed on a FERC project-by-project basis, although the modeling will be at the watershed scale.

Ecosystem Research

NMFS is working with our partners on various ecosystem research to learn more about river herring’s role in the ecosystem.  Some of these projects include:

Hydroacoustic Surveys in the Penobscot Estuary

Estuary Trawl Surveys in the Penobscot River

Juvenile Beach Seine Surveys

Penobscot Tributary River Run Monitoring

Diadromous Fish as Prey in Gulf of Maine Groundfish

Climate Research

NMFS has been working with our partners to further climate change assessments including investigations in marine and freshwater systems.  A joint NOAA National Ocean Service (NOS), NMFS, and Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) project will, amongst other things, assess statistical and dynamical downscaling techniques to improve climate projections of estuarine habitats that serve as critical early-life environments for many commercial, recreational, and protected fishes (contact: Vincent Saba). For example, NOAA will evaluate different downscaling techniques to improve climate projections of estuarine and riverine habitats for river herring.  Additionally, through a funded NOAA Special Early-Stage Experimental or Development (SEED) project (contact: Charles Stock), OAR and NMFS are assessing the utility of seasonal to decadal climate predictions for marine resource management. Studies such as these are important to help improve future climate assessments and year-to-year management of marine resources, including those for river herring.  

River Herring Avoidance

NMFS awarded a 2014 Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program Grant, to Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County  for “Enhanced Bycatch Avoidance Communication Network for River Herring & Butterfish." The bycatch avoidance network provides the longfin squid fleet with a system to collect, report, and receive information at sea and allows for real-time avoidance of butterfish and shad/river herring bycatch. See "Research Set-Aside Program” for additional funded studies.

Summary

There are numerous research efforts underway for river herring, and the above just captures a few of these.  However, river herring remains a data poor species.  Although important research and conservation efforts are underway, continued efforts are needed (see Conclusions and Looking Forward).