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NOAA and ASMFC Team Up to Help River Herring

Alewives.  Photo Credit:  NOAA Fisheries, Northeast Fisheries Science Center

More than 80 experts from Canada to Florida participated in the first technical working group meeting for river herring (i.e., blueback herring and alewife) on March 27.  NOAA Fisheries and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission organized this meeting to kick off a strategic effort to advance the restoration of river herring throughout its Atlantic coastal range.  NOAA Fisheries also announced that it is making available additional funds to support independent research projects to help fill in data gaps to learn more about these species.

NOAA Fisheries already provided the Commission with $95,000 in research funds.  We now plan to supplement this with up to $100,000 in additional monies this year. We are working with the Commission on final details to identify research priorities.  Then, we will solicit proposals for research projects to address these priorities through an open and competitive process.

To better understand and manage these valuable species, the technical working group will help the agencies create a long-term vision and a dynamic conservation plan to help restore coastal river herring populations. Technical working group members are from federal and state resource agencies, academia, environmental organizations, Tribal Nations, the fishing industry, and the fishery management councils. 


Why protect river herring?

Alewife and blueback herring populations, which use rivers all along the eastern seaboard of North America, have experienced significant declines.  This is due to overfishing in the late 1800s through the 1960s, habitat loss and other factors.  As a result, we consider river herring to be a “Species of Concern."

“Today, we’re seeing higher returns of river herring on some rivers,” said Kimberly Damon-Randall, supervisory fishery biologist, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, NOAA Fisheries.  “But we need to know more.  We need to know how these returns relate to the overall health of blueback herring and alewife populations throughout their full range."

Better understanding of what’s going on with river herring is important for ecological, social and economic reasons.  They play a key role in the marine food web and are prey for popular commercial and recreational fish like striped bass and cod.  They also bring nutrients from the marine environment into the freshwater reaches that they use for spawning which is a critical ecological role.  They have supported one of the oldest fisheries in the United States and have an important cultural significance to coastal communities and Tribal Nations in the U.S. and Canada.

What we hope to learn?

“We have assembled a diverse group of participants and taken a unique organizational approach to develop this plan,” said Toni Kerns, Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. “We’ve formed a coordinating body that will oversee the work of several subgroups made up of experts from different disciplines.  These subgroups will tackle questions ranging from fisheries impacts, habitat needs/loss, to the effects of climate change on both species.”

Experts will try to quantify the impact of ongoing restoration and conservation efforts.  In particular, they will assess available data to determine whether recent reports of higher river counts along the coast represent sustained trends.  And, they they will review any new information produced from scientific studies (e.g., genetic analyses, ocean migration patterns, and climate change impacts) that are completed in the next three to five years. 

We’ll use all of this information to develop the conservation plan.  When completed, this plan will help guide restoration efforts and inform future species’ status reviews and stock assessments. 

For more information on the Technical Working Group and river herring click here.