On June 12th the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council placed the first-ever limits on the catch of river herring and shad in offshore waters, capping the amount that can be taken in a year by trawl netters fishing for mackerel. Individual states along the eastern seaboard have tightly restricted and in a number of cases completely closed their fisheries because the numbers of these river-born fish are so depleted. The council’s action puts a total catch cap of 236 metric tons on all alosine species: American shad, hickory shad, blueback herring and alewife.
River herring and shad are a critical but depressed component of the Atlantic coast’s forage base; that is, prey that support populations of predatory fish, shorebirds and marine mammals. While dams and other environmental impediments to spawning are a major culprit in the disappearance of shad and river herring from many coastal river systems, fishing mortality on the remnant stocks is mainly due to “bycatch” in the trawl fisheries for sea herring and mackerel offshore. Amendment 14 to the federal council’s Mackerel, Squid and Butterfish Fishery Management Plan features new measures to monitor and assess the catch of river herring and shad in these fisheries. Federal managers will now close the commercial fishery for mackerel if and when the cap is reached, a strong incentive for the fleet to avoid these vulnerable species so they can keep fishing.
“The council’s action is a badly-needed complement to the extraordinary measures the states are taking to restore river herring and shad and a good first step in getting at-sea mortality under control,” said Wild Oceans executive director Pam Lyons Gromen, who also serves as an advisor to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission on its river herring and shad management efforts. “We owe it to the fishermen, businesses and local communities that once thrived, economically and culturally, on healthy river-runs, as well as to the health of the coastal ecosystem they are such an important part of.”
June 18, 2013