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Protecting And Rebuilding River Herring And Shad

River herring swim upstream.

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

NOAA Photo

What's at Stake

Earthjustice is protecting river herring and shad—foundations of the oceanic food chain—from industrial overfishing operations that are causing massive population crashes with no repercussion from federal oversight agencies.

Case Overview

River herring (alewife and blueback herring) are, or more accurately were, a critical component of the eastern seaboard’s coastal ecosystem, serving as a significant food source for a variety of fish, birds and mammals. Recent data show that the river herring population has crashed by more than 90 percent since 1985.

Shad (American and hickory) are related to herring, occupy a similar ecological niche, and are also in danger of regional eradication.

The culprit is the same for both fish: a lack of federal regulation to prevent industrial fishing boats from catching herring and shad in unsustainable amounts.

Earthjustice is representing commercial and recreational fishermen in challenging the National Marine Fisheries Service’s failure to protect river herring and shad from being caught and killed by Atlantic industrial fisheries. Our lawsuits challenge the agencies failure to conserve and manage river herring and shad populations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act which was put in place to end overfishing, rebuild depleted stocks, establish annual catch limits and accountability measures, and minimize bycatch.

The New England Council and NMFS have thumbed their nose at federal management of these species as “stocks” in the herring fishery for years, despite a court order to do so. In June 2013, following years of pressure from Earthjustice and allied organizations, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council initiated its second amendment (known as Amendment 15) to recover these ailing fish populations with federal management as “stocks” in the mackerel fishery. But in a stark about-face, the Council and federal agencies voted sixteen months later to do away with the recovery plan.

Earthjustice is challenging this reversal in federal court.

Case ID

2037, 2185, 2622, 2721

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