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Federal Management of River Herring

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, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office of the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, and promulgated through Federal fishery management plans for Atlantic Herring and Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish.  Because the seasonal and inter-annual distribution of river herring and shad are highly variable, the Councils and NMFS believe that the most effective measures to address river herring and shad catch are those that increase at-sea sampling, improve accounting of incidental catch, and promote cooperative efforts with the industry to minimize catch.


The types of management measures currently in place or being considered fall into five general categories, and these measures are described below:  

  1. Limitations on total river herring and shad catch; 
  2. improvements to at-sea sampling by fisheries observers; 
  3. river herring avoidance program; 
  4. increased monitoring of Atlantic herring and mackerel fisheries; and 
  5. including river herring in a Federal fishery management plan.  

1) Limits on Total River Herring and Shad Catch


Vessels fishing for Atlantic mackerel and Atlantic herring can encounter river herring and shad.  The Mid-Atlantic and New England Fishery Management Councils recommended river herring and shad catch caps for these fisheries and NMFS implemented catch caps for these fisheries beginning in 2014.  Managers don't currently have enough data to determine biologically based river herring and shad catch caps or to assess the potential effects of such catch caps on river herring and shad populations coastwide.  However, the Councils and NMFS believe river herring and shad catch caps provide a strong incentive for the mackerel and herring fleets to continue avoiding river herring and shad.  These catch caps are intended to allow for the full harvest of the mackerel and herring annual catch limits while reducing river herring and shad incidental catch.  In November 2014, NMFS proposed a two-phase river herring and shad cap for the mackerel fishery for the 2015.  The two-phase cap is intended to ensure that the incentive to avoid river herring and shad remains strong regardless of mackerel catch levels.  The cap starts at the 89 mt, but increases to 155 mt if mackerel catches surpass 10,000 mt and river herring and catches up to that point have stayed below 89 mt.  Catch of river herring and shad on fishing trips that land greater than 20,000 lb of mackerel count towards the cap.  If NMFS determines that 95 percent of the river herring and shad cap has been harvested, a 20,000-lb mackerel possession limit will become effective for the remainder of the fishing year.  In December 2014, NMFS implemented river herring and shad catch caps for the Atlantic herring fishery for 2014 and 2015.  Catch of river herring and shad on fishing trips that land more than 6,600 lb of herring count towards the caps.  Caps are area and gear specific.  If NMFS determines that 95 percent of a river herring and shad cap has been harvested, a 2,000-lb herring possession limit for that area and gear will become effective for the remainder of the fishing year.  
The caps are as follows:

Please visit https://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/aps/monitoring/riverherringshad.html to learn more about river herring and shad catch caps.  
 

2) Improvements to At-Sea Sampling by Fisheries Observers

The New England and Mid-Atlantic Councils recommended management measures to improve quality of at-sea fisheries observer data by discouraging discarding (known as slippage) before catch has been sampled by an observer.
It is important to have all catch made available to an at-sea observer because river herring and shad encounters are rare, and even a few un-sampled hauls can affect observer data on river herring and shad encounters.  In 2014, NMFS prohibited slippage on fishing trips by limited access herring and mackerel/squid vessels carrying observers, except when safety, mechanical failure, or excess catch of spiny dogfish prevented catch from being brought aboard the vessel.  Additionally, midwater trawl vessels carrying an observer that slip catch when fishing in the Groundfish Closed Areas are required to immediately leave the closed areas and remain outside of the closed areas for the remainder of that trip.  If a vessel does slip catch when an observer is aboard, the vessel is required to complete a released catch affidavit describing the slippage event.  To further discourage discarding prior to sampling on observed fishing trips, the New England and Mid-Atlantic Councils also recommended slippage consequence measures.  Specifically, if herring and mackerel/squid vessel slip catch due to safety, mechanical failure, or excess catch of spiny dogfish, vessels would be required to move 15-miles before resuming fishing.  If vessels slip catch for any other reason, the vessel would be required to immediately terminate its trip and return to port.  
These slippage consequence recommendations have been submitted to NMFS and are currently under review.
 

3)  River Herring Avoidance Program

The New England and Mid-Atlantic Councils support a river herring avoidance program that uses real-time catch data to help fishing vessels avoid areas where interactions with river herring are high.  The program is a collaborative effort through the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and the Sustainable Fisheries Coalition, and members of the herring and mackerel fisheries.  Preliminary results from the river herring avoidance program suggest that near-real time communication systems can potentially be an effective way for fishermen to accurately avoid areas of high river herring incidental catch.  Unlike the temporary closing of river herring “hotspots” approach, the near-real time communication method is dynamic, finer scale, and has the potential to reduce river herring incidental catch while not having significant negative economic impacts to the fishing industry.  The Councils will each evaluate the program in two years to see if corresponding regulatory requirements should be developed.  However, the current, wide-spread industry support for the avoidance program is because, in part, this program is currently voluntary and does not have associated regulatory requirements.  The river herring avoidance program has financial support through the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan for 2014-2015.


4) Increased Monitoring of Atlantic Herring and Mackerel Fisheries

The New England and Mid-Atlantic Councils recommended increasing at-sea observer coverage in the herring and mackerel fisheries to, in part, gain a better understanding of river herring behavior and fishery encounters.  Budget uncertainties prevented NMFS from being able to implement the increased at-sea observer coverage recommended by the Councils.  To help address the recommendations for increased monitoring, NMFS has taken the lead on an omnibus amendment that would establish industry-funded monitoring programs for fisheries that require additional observer coverage to meet specific fishery management plan goals.  This amendment would allow for industry-funded monitoring in all New England and Mid-Atlantic fisheries and would specify increased coverage levels for the herring and mackerel fisheries.  The New England and Mid-Atlantic Councils recommended that monitoring options in addition to at-sea observers, such as electronic monitoring, portside sampling, and at-sea monitors, be further developed in the industry-funded monitoring amendment.  This amendment will be further developed during 2015.

5)  Including River Herring in a Federal Fishery Management Plan

In October 2013, the Mid-Atlantic Council considered whether river herring and shad needed additional Federal management.  After extensive discussion, public testimony, and consideration of public comment, the Council determined that additional management of river herring and shad under a Federal fishery management plan was neither required nor appropriate at this time given ongoing conservation efforts.  
Instead, the Mid-Atlantic Council recommended addressing additional conservation of river herring and shad through an interagency working group focused on catch.  The Council will review the progress of the working group on a regular basis and in 2016 formally evaluate the effectiveness of the working group approach to determine if it is appropriate or if a different strategy is required to manage river herring and shad.  In January 2015, the New England Council also considered whether river herring and shad needed additional Federal management.  After a careful review of current river herring and shad management and conservation efforts, the Council determined that including river herring and shad in Federal fishery management plan was not warranted at this time, but that it would re-consider additional Federal management for river herring and shad in 2018.