Protect Threatened River Herring and Shad

  • by: The Pew Charitable Trusts
  • target: Mr. Daniel Morris (Acting Regional Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service) and Chris Moore (Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council)
River herring and shad play an immensely important role in the health of our coastal ecosystems. As food for larger fish, they help sustain commercial and recreational fisheries on the East Coast and contribute to the economies of many coastal river towns. Now, they are in critical condition because their populations have declined by more than 97 percent.

You can help secure the first meaningful protections for these fish in the ocean. Millions are caught each year, mostly by industrial trawlers targeting Atlantic mackerel. These massive boats tow football field-size nets and indiscriminately kill millions of pounds of unintended catch annually, including river herring, shad, bluefin tuna, cod, haddock, and striped bass, as well as whales, dolphins, and seabirds.

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council will meet in June to decide how to protect river herring and American shad at sea. This is your opportunity to help save these treasured species. Send a letter to the council today.
- Mr. Daniel Morris (Acting Regional Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service)
- Chris Moore (Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council)

Dear Mr. Daniel Morris and Mr. Chris Moore:

For years, our coastal communities have worked tirelessly to restore culturally and economically significant species such as river herring and shad to rivers along the Atlantic coast. At the same time, the incidental catch of millions of river herring and shad annually by the mid-Atlantic mackerel and squid fisheries remains largely unmonitored and unregulated. I am concerned about this serious, ongoing threat to these already-depleted species that undermines our efforts to restore our estuaries and rivers.

River herring and shad populations are at historic lows and have declined coastwide by 99 and 97 percent, respectively. In response to this, most Atlantic states prohibit the taking of river herring in coastal waters and are advancing similar restrictions on American shad. These populations are in dire need of conservation and management, so it is critical that they are given protection in federal waters under Amendment 14 to the Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish Fishery Management Plan. In light of the depleted status of these fish, the Council should choose the option with the most positive biological impact:

Inclusion of river herring and shad as stocks within the fishery. (Alternative 9b-9e).

Developing the long-term protections associated with designating river herring and shad as stocks in the fishery will take time. Therefore, the Council should adopt the following interim measure to immediately reduce and limit the at-sea catch of river herring and shad:

- A catch cap, effective in 2013 (Alternative 6b-6c) that functions effectively, does not increase wasteful discarding, and cannot be circumvented by simply declaring into another fishery. These alternatives should be modified to more effectively ensure that directed mackerel fishing stops if a cap is reached by lowering the amount of mackerel that can be fished for, possessed or retained.

I strongly urge you to also incorporate all of the following:

- 100 percent at-sea monitoring on all mid-water trawl fishing trips. One observer must be assigned to each vessel in a pair trawl operation. (Alternative 5b4 and Alternative 3d).

- An accountability system to discourage the wasteful dumping of unsampled catch. All catch, including "operational discards", must be made available to fishery observers for systematic sampling (Alternative 3j with operational discards prohibited). If dumping is allowed, include a fleet wide limit of 10 dumping events (Alternative 3l and 3n) and require vessels that dump to take an observer on their next trip (Alternative 3o).

- A requirement to weigh all catch. (Alternative 2c-2f).

Thank you for the opportunity to comment and for your commitment to these priority reforms.
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