Fisheries to end by 2012 unless states submit a plan for exemption
Maryland fishery managers have commended recent actions by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to protect the declining river herring fishery, an important multi-state resource. An amendment to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Shad and River Herring, approved by ASMFC earlier this month, will prohibit commercial and recreational river herring fisheries in states’ waters from Maine to Florida starting January 1, 2012, unless a jurisdiction applies for and receives an exemption.
“This is a strong move by the Commission to support one of our important resources, and another opportunity for us to work together with our neighbors to have a positive impact on the Bay, the surrounding waters and the animals that live in them,” said Tom O’Connell, Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Service Director.
To be granted an exemption, a state or jurisdiction must submit a sustainable fishery management plan by January 1, 2010. If the state or regional river herring population at the time is below optimum level, the plan must provide restrictions that will increase reproduction and juvenile recruitment. If the population is at optimum levels, the plan must detail a strategy to sustain the population. The plan must also require increased monitoring of river herring stocks.
“The ASMFC heard the call from fishermen and the conservation community, who have been sounding the alarm about the important role that river herring play in providing food for predator fish, marine mammals, and seabirds,” noted Brooks Mountcastle, Mid-Atlantic Representative for the Marine Fish Conservation Network. “We are very encouraged by the ASMFC’s action and view the decision as the first of many steps needed to help river herring recover along the Atlantic coast.”
Because river herring is also found in ocean fisheries beyond the states’ jurisdictions, the Commission is asking for federal assistance from the Department of Commerce to monitor the small mesh fisheries that are significantly impacting the river herring population through bycatch.
“In some years the estimated bycatch of river herring by the Atlantic herring fleet alone may exceed the amount of river herring caught in state waters along the East Coast,” added O’Connell.
River herring was a stable food for Marylanders until the mid-1950s when populations began to decline due to habitat degradation and fishing pressure, and remains an important forage base for large predators, such as striped bass and bluefish. Commercial landings of river herring in Maryland likely exceeded 100 million pounds during the 1800s, decreasing to less than 10 million pounds in the early 1900s and presently are less than 50,000 pounds.
The Interstate Fishery Management Plan for River Herring (Amendment 2) will be available by mid-June via the ASMFC’s website at www.asmfc.org under Breaking News or by contacting the ASMFC at (202) 289-6400.