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Research/Conservation Needs and Ongoing Efforts

Research and conservation needs have been identified by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), as well as our partners (e.g., ASMFC Shad and River Herring Technical Committee, councils) over the years. Most recently, the River Herring Technical Expert Working Group (TEWG) and its subgroups have worked to consider ongoing efforts to determine what research is needed to restore river herring.  These needs relate to habitat, fisheries, climate change, species interaction, stock status, and stock structure. Also, there are many items that cut across these specific topics where ecosystem integration is necessary. Identified research and conservation needs are important to highlight, and may help to find funds to meet these needs.

Research/Conservation Efforts

There have been many previous and ongoing efforts to fill-in gaps and further river herring conservation (e.g., identified in TEWG subgroup products). Funding sources are important to try to fill these needs and there have been many important funding projects/initatives to date which have contributed to what is currently known for river herring. Please visit the Funding Sources page for additional information.

The small-scale and large-scale efforts from Canada through Florida involving those from the general public to government working to conserve river herring (e.g., fish-friendly hydropower, barriers to fish passage, watershed cleanups, in-stream flows and flow augmentation) are too numerous to list, but each is important. These are not broken down by individual plan component, as many of these have overlapping benefits.

Restoration Projects


Picture credit: David Bean, NOAA

Read more about our many Restoration Efforts, including barrier removals to restore river herring populations.

The Atlantic Coastal Fish Habitat Partnership (ACFHP) received funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2015 through the National Fish Habitat Partnership for two fish passage projects which will contribute to the conservation of river herring habitat. A spawning fish habitat enhancement project was also funded downstream of Lock and Dam 2 on the Cape Fear River in North Carolina.

NOAA Fisheries researchers are working in collaboration with East Carolina University and the University of Maryland to evaluate the potential economic and ecological impacts of fully restoring the Atlantic Coast riverine habitat.

Federal Fishery Management

Several management measures intended to reduce commercial fisheries interactions with river herring and shad in Federal waters are currently in place or are being developed.  These management measures have been developed by the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC), the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC), the NMFS Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), and promulgated through Federal fishery management plans for Atlantic Herring and Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish.  

River Herring Avoidance Programs

These programs use real-time catch data to help fishing vessels avoid areas where interactions with river herring are high.  Additional information can be found at “Research Set-Aside Program” below.

ASMFC River Herring Sustainable Fishery Management Plans 

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s River Herring Initiative

For example, Atlantic Coastal Fish Habitat Partnership and The Nature Conservancy’s collaboration to convene a series of webinars and supplemental meetings, and one in-person workshop, to gather river-system specific river herring information to prioritize, plan, and strategize river herring restoration needs. Also, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center conducts run count and spawning habitat use surveys in tributaries of Chesapeake Bay.

St. Croix Watershed Restoration

Maine passed legislation in 2013, rescinding previous legislation to block river herring passage in the St. Croix watershed. After over two decades of blocked fish passage, river herring were once again allowed to access historic habitat in the St. Croix upstream of Grand Falls.  Following the barrier removal in 2013, the Next Steps group was formed. The group, comprised of NMFS, US Fish and Wildlife Service (US FWS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Passamaquoddy, holds monthly coordination calls to discuss river herring restoration and fish passage improvements in the St. Croix. NMFS is also involved in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing at the Vanceboro project and has reserved authority for fish passage.

Funded Research Projects

Fisheries and the Environment (FATE) funded projects to investigate the impacts of climate change on river herring in marine and freshwater environments. This is a project led by Stony Brook University in collaboration with NOAA and ASMFC.

ASMFC and NMFS funded research projects to address high priority needs include:

NOAA has recently funded projects related to river herring in coordination with our partners. A few examples are listed below, and completion reports will be available at NOAA GARFO Grants Database.

Research Set-Aside Program

Using funds from the 2014/2015 Atlantic Herring Research Set Aside (RSA), a project called  “Characterizing and reducing river herring incidental catch in the Atlantic herring mid-water trawl fishery,” is underway by the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth/School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST). This project will increase the accuracy and precision of river herring incidental catch estimates by sampling mid-water trawl vessels at a high rate. This project also hopes to reduce river herring incidental catch.    

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology, partnered with Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, was awarded funds through the NEFMC Atlantic herring research set-aside to continue the river herring avoidance and portside sampling programs in the Atlantic herring fishery for 2016-2018.

This program is managed by the NMFS Northeast Cooperative Research Program. Landings that pay for RSA research are allocated by the NEFMC and MAFMC. Money generated by the sale of the awarded RSA quota funds the proposed research, and compensation is provided for vessels harvesting the quota in the form of direct fish sales in the commercial fishing industry or in the form of additional fishing opportunities in the for-hire and charter recreational fishing industry.

Further Research/Conservation Efforts

NMFS and ASMFC are committed to further research on and conservation of river herring through a number of ongoing efforts, many of which involve collaboration with our partners. Some of these efforts are described on the Conservation Plan further research page

There are numerous research efforts underway for river herring, and the above list 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).