Herring, mackerel and other small schooling fish are food for the whole ecosystem, including marine mammals, birds, and larger fish like tuna and striped bass. But the expansion of industrial-scale fishing is jeopardizing these key prey species and the marine environments and coastal communities they support.
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.
Over the past few weeks, both the New England and the Mid Atlantic Council have moved forward with improvements for managing forage fish. In addition, this past May the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission committed to develop ecosystem-based management for menhaden. First, we want to say “Thank you!” to all our supporters and coalition members who wrote letters, attended meetings and talked to decision makers about these issues. Your input makes a difference! Here is a brief summary of what happened.
There have been numerous reports over the last few weeks in which large numbers of menhaden have been dying around Long Island Sound, in the coastal waters of New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Maybe you’ve even seen – or smelled – such a fish kill on a beach near you. Recent reports have noted many thousands of dead menhaden on shore.
Large die-offs often occur when schools of menhaden, fleeing voracious predators like bluefish or striped bass, escape into nearshore waters where they can suffocate from insufficient levels of oxygen in the water. Such events are usually limited to small areas, like estuaries and river mouths, and occur in late summer when oxygen levels are lowest. But it’s only June, so why the massive and widespread early deaths? There are a few opinions out there.