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Southern New England’s Worst Year in History for River Herring Raises Concerns at Sea

2015-08-26

Here’s a scary news item from the Pew Charitable Trust.  River herring, a species related to the oceanic version, spend their lives at sea before returning to rivers to spawn.  They are not sought as food fish but are caught as “by-catch” when trawlers pick up the oceanic version.  There are supposed to be limits on “by-catch” but they are not enforced, or even monitored in most cases.  Despite efforts to improve river habitat, the population of river herring crashed by about 90% this year:

Fisheries officials and watershed conservation groups have tallied the spring migratory runs of river herring, and in parts of southern New England, 2015 likely will go down as a particularly terrible year for these critically important forage fish. Reports from across Connecticut and Rhode Island show the number of migrating fish declining dramatically compared with recent years, leading one prominent biologist to call this year “the worst in history” in his state.

Consider a few examples from Rhode Island. Last year, more than 102,000 river herring passed through Gilbert Stuart Brook in North Kingstown. This year, that number dropped to about 11,000.

via Southern New England’s Worst Year in History for River Herring Raises Concerns at Sea. (published August 18, 2015)

The explanation for the crash is given as the excessive “by-catch” which is estimated in the article at increasing by about 350,000 fish, or nearly four times the fish returning to all the major Rhode Island streams.

Normally, as pressure on fish by fishermen increases, the large species are eliminated first; then smaller and smaller fish are caught and endangered.  In this case, it seems that a small fish has been nearly wiped out even before the larger ones are gone.  This is an ecological catastrophe of the first magnitude.

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