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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 mid-water 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.


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

March 27, 2017 | Legal Document

Memorandum Opinion Blueback herring ESA Listing

The Court will grant Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and deny the Service’s cross-motion for summary judgment. The Court will, accordingly, vacate the Listing Decision with respect to blueback herring and will remand this matter to the Service for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. A separate order will issue. /s/ Randolph D. Moss RANDOLPH D. MOSS United States District Judge.

October 5, 2015 | Letter

Catch Caps for River Herring and Shad in FY2016-2018

Letter to Regional Administrator John Bullard, NMFS, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, on behalf of Earthjustice's clients in Flaherty v. Bryson, urging him to reject the New England Council’s recommendation for the river herring and shad (RH/S) catch caps in the proposed 2016-2018 Atlantic herring specifications.