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East Coast River Herring and Shad Protection Efforts Challenged

River herring swim upstream.

River herring and other species have been decimated by the unregulated catch by industrial midwater trawl fishermen.

NOAA Photo

Case Overview

Earthjustice is representing commercial and recreational fishermen in challenging two government agencies for failing to protect river herring and shad from being caught and killed by Atlantic industrial fisheries. The lawsuit challenges the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission for failure to conserve and manage river herring and shad populations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the Atlantic Coast Fisheries Cooperative Management Act, which were put in place to prevent overfishing, rebuild depleted stocks, establish annual catch limits and accountability measures and minimize bycatch.

River herring are a critical component of the coastal ecosystem along the Eastern seaboard, providing a significant source of food for a variety of fish, birds and mammals. Since 1985 there has been over a 90 percent decline in river herring populations, according to recent data. Shad is a separate fish species and similarly threatened. Both of these fish populations continue to be decimated by the unregulated catch by industrial midwater trawl fishermen.

The suit calls on the agencies to develop a recovery plan to protect East Coast river herring and shad populations to help stem their decline.

Case Updates

May 5, 2014 | Blog Post

Are the Feds Studying River Herring to Death?

The industrial Atlantic herring and mackerel fisheries continue to kill river herring by the millions as “incidental catch” with little oversight and no meaningful accountability.

November 8, 2013 | Legal Document

Amendment 15 Complaint

Fishermen sue National Fisheries Service to protect river herring and shad from industrial trawlers.

April 23, 2013 | Press Release

Heritage Fish Regain Access to Spawning Habitat

A new law that takes effect today will remove a blockade across a U.S.-Canadian border river erected nearly two decades ago that prevented alewives (river herring) from returning to their historic spawning habitat. The impediment (now understood as an ecological mistake) was established in 1995 at the request of sport fishing guides, who accused river herring of competing with them for smallmouth bass.

August 3, 2012 | Press Release

Federal Judge Strikes Down Latest Atlantic Herring Management Plan

U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler has found that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) acted illegally in approving the plan put together by the New England Fisheries Management Council known as Amendment 4 and tossed out the entire amendment.

August 2, 2012 | Legal Document

Amendment 4 Order

U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler found that the National Marine Fisheries Service acted illegally in their implementation of New England Fisheries Management Plan known as Amendment 4 for river and sea herring

June 22, 2012 | Blog Post

Victories For East Coast Forage Fish

A special thank you goes out to the thousands of Earthjustice supporters who took action over the last few months by writing to the fishery management councils. Your voices made a huge difference.

After a long struggle, we just concluded two great weeks in the campaign to protect forage fish, some of the most important fish in the sea.

I want to share with you some of the details about what happened.