The Herring Alliance is a coalition working to protect and restore ocean wildlife and ecosystems along the Atlantic coast of the United States through precautionary and science-based management of forage fish such as herring, mackerel, menhaden, river herring and shad.
We tackle this mission through public education and advocacy at the state, regional and federal level. Get involved!
What are forage fish?
Forage fish are small, energy-rich species that play a vital role in the ocean food web. They swim in large schools and feed the larger fish we love to eat (cod and striped bass) as well as animals we love to watch (whales, dolphins, and birds). These ocean predators consume vast amounts of fish: a single humpback whale can consume 1,000 pounds of forage a day and seabirds worldwide eat roughly 12 million tons annually.
In the Northeast U.S., examples of these important forage fish species include Atlantic herring, mackerel, river herring, shad, menhaden, sand lance, butterfish and squid.
What are the problems?
Healthy marine ecosystems depend on a diverse and abundant supply of forage fish. Many of the important forage species that are found off the Atlantic coast are seriously depleted. For others, there is not enough information to determine population status, leaving no sound basis for science-based management.
Current catch limits for commercially valuable prey species, like Atlantic herring and mackerel, do not leave enough of these fish in the ocean for their predators to eat. Many of the Atlantic’s ocean predators are still depleted or struggling to recover (like cod and whales) and their need for abundant food should be considered when setting fishing limits for their prey. To establish resilient marine ecosystems, it is also necessary to reduce fishing for forage species in particular places in the ocean, and during key times of the year. These kinds of considerations are fundamental to a new approach known as “ecosystem-based fisheries management” – making decisions about fishing that consider interactions among species in an ecosystem, and habitat needs.
Ocean predators are also vulnerable to accidental capture, injury and death in fishing nets because they feed on the same schools of fish that vessels target. For example, in the industrial Atlantic herring fishery, federal fishery observers have documented fishing-related deaths of protected whales and dolphins and hundreds of thousands of pounds of groundfish. These casualties are known as bycatch.
Bycatch is also a problem for depleted river herring and shad populations. These coastal fish spend part of their lives at sea, and return annually to rivers to spawn, forming an important connection between rivers and the ocean. River herring are federally designated as “Species of Concern” and there is increasing conservation concern about shad on the Atlantic coast. These forage fish are often accidentally caught when they school with Atlantic herring and mackerel at sea. River herring and shad are in need of federal conservation and management in the ocean where they spend most of their lives.
Fishery managers must advance solutions that protect the health of the entire ecosystem, and that ensure there is enough fish in the ocean to sustain a productive and resilient marine food web.
What reforms are needed?
To realize its mission, Herring Alliance needs your support to accomplish the following goals:
- Establish ecosystem-based catch limits that leave enough forage fish in the ocean for the marine animals that feed on them. Before existing fisheries are expanded, or additional fisheries are developed, an ecosystem analysis must be done.
- Designate and preserve ecologically-important ocean habitat in order to protect juvenile and spawning fish, minimize bycatch, and ensure that forage fish are abundant in the places and during the seasons when predators need them most.
- Incorporate all forage fish caught by U.S. fisheries into management plans, to ensure these fish are managed using the full force of federal law including annual catch limits, accountability measures and designation of important habitat.
- Implement comprehensive monitoring and accountability programs on industrial fisheries to accurately assess catch of target forage fish species, as well as incidental catch of river herring, shad, groundfish, and marine mammals.