By Pam Lyons Gromen –
In 2009, Wild Oceans brought attention to the plight of the Atlantic’s river-spawning herrings in an article entitled Out of Bounds. Coastwide, populations of alewives, blueback herring and American shad had plummeted to record lows. We argued that saving these critical forage fish required conservation and management that encompassed their geographic range and life cycle. Recovery depended on expanding the traditional boundaries of fishery management to bridge state and federal waters. A comprehensive management plan was needed.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) coordinates management of shad and river herring in state waters (out to 3 miles from shore). Yet, as adults river herring and American shad spend most of their lives in federal waters (between 3-200 miles from shore), where no management measures exist. Recognizing that bycatch in federal fisheries for Atlantic herring and mackerel was a significant obstacle to river herring and shad recovery, the ASMFC called on the New England and Mid-Atlantic fisheries management councils for help.
Over the past five years, we have bounced back and forth between ASMFC, New England Council and Mid-Atlantic Council meetings as each entity tried to tackle its piece of the problem. To its credit, the Mid-Atlantic Council stepped out in front and formed an ad-hoc committee to investigate more holistic solutions to the lack of federal management. Based on the committee’s advice and a strong chorus of support from the public, the Mid-Atlantic Council initiated an action (Amendment 15 to the Atlantic Mackerel, Squid and Butterfish Plan) to bring river herring and shad into the fold of federal management to finally afford these fish the same conservation and management standards as those given to other federally-managed fish.
Now, after laying out an initial framework for federal management, the Mid-Atlantic Council is at a critical juncture. At its October meeting, the Council will review the framework to decide whether or not to continue to move forward. The temptation that must be avoided is the temptation to delay – to kick the can down the road a few years to see if the 28-year-old piecemeal approach to management still has a shot. It doesn’t. What we have learned after decades of working on big migratory fish rebuilding (e.g., marlin, bluefin tuna, swordfish), is that recovery plans must address management gaps, both geographic and functional, if they are to succeed. In the absence of a federal management component to their recovery, river herring and shad will continue to fall through the cracks of the current management system.
Please take a moment to send a simple message to the Mid-Atlantic Council, urging the Council to develop the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) required to advance Amendment 15. Though our supporters have weighed in on this issue a number of times over the past two years, it is critical to let the Council know that the public remains engaged in this issue and expects the Council to follow through with its commitment to conserve river herring and shad, which are so vital to the Atlantic’s forage base. Comments received before October 2nd will be distributed to the Council at their meeting. Thank you in advance for your commitment to the future of river herring and shad, to the future of fishing!