River herring (blueback herring and alewife) are found throughout the Mid Atlantic, although their populations have plummeted from historical levels. Prior to the collapse of river herring populations, both species supported fisheries of significant socio-economic value.
River herring are managed cooperatively by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) through the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Shad and River Herring.
In 2012, several Mid Atlantic states announced moratoriums on the harvest of river herring (blueback and alewife herring). ASMFC member states were required to implement a harvest moratorium by January 1, 2012, unless sustainability of their fishery was demonstrated through State-specific management plans. Catch and release fishing for river herring is still allowed in most areas.
According to the 2012 ASMFC Benchmark Stock Assessment for River Herring, “the overall coastwide population of river herring (alewife and blueback herring) stocks on the US Atlantic coast is depleted to near historic lows.”
Recent restoration projects along the Atlantic Coast could have major impacts on river herring. On rivers throughout New England and the Mid Atlantic, dam removals and other fish passage projects are opening up thousands of miles of spawning habitat to river herring and other anadromous species.
In many areas, fish surveys indicate that migratory fish populations increase dramatically as traditional spawning and nursery habitats re-open.