No Fluke

Atlantic Herring hurting, fish mangers look for solutions


Atlantic Herring numbers are down — way down. According to NOAA Fisheries, the stock is overfished. In 2022, overall commercial landings totaled 9.3 million pounds. By comparison, a decade prior in 2013, commercial landings totaled 206 million pounds.

Additionally, a 2022 management track stock assessment estimated that the SSB (Spawning Stock Biomass) in 2021 was 39,091 mt, which is approximately 21 percent of the biomass target.

A close relative of Atlantic Herring (and they often travel together in the open ocean) are Alewife and Blueback Herring, collectively known as river herring. They are often referred to as buckies locally.

At a public hearing last week in South Kingstown, Rich Hittinger, 1st vice president of the R.I. Saltwater Anglers Association, said, “River herring serve as forage for larger fish such as striped bass, bluefish and tuna, as well as prey for osprey, seals, otters and whales. They are extremely important to the recreational fishing community.”

Rivers provide access to freshwater spawning areas for river herring, and in the spring and summer our estuaries provide a place for juveniles to grow, who then move out to sea in the fall.

Our coastal states have spent millions of dollars to remove dams and build fish ladders to facilitate these fish returning to our rivers to spawn. But because they are often caught as by-catch from boats targeting Atlantic Herring (or for some other unknown reason), many river herring never even make it back to the mouth of our rivers to make the trip up the river to spawn.

To address declining numbers of Atlantic Herring and river herring, the New England Fishery Management Council is revising the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan (FMP) and is holding scoping meetings for the public to weigh in on Amendment 10 to the plan, which aims to minimize user conflict, contributes to optimum yield and supports rebuilding of Atlantic Herring as well as enhancing river herring and shad avoidance and catch reduction.

At the hearing last week, ten people testified, eight recreational anglers and river keeper organizations and two representing commercial fisheries. Each of the river groups or state fish managers testifying pointed to the decline of river herring. For example, the Narrow River Preservation Association relates on their website (, that river herring counts slipped below 5,000 in 2022 and 2023 in the Narrow River.  At their peak in the year 2000, at the Gilbert Stuart stream fish ladder, almost 300,000 fish were counted.

Jack Peters from the Riverside area of East Providence said, “My father was a Penobscot Indian. We moved here in the early ’60s. My father taught us to distinguish what herring and shad had eggs in them and those that did not. The males we kept as garden fertilizer, and the females were released back into the water above the dams. We also would keep some to eat, often pickling them for consumption. Today it is illegal to take a river herring, but even if you could take them there are so few around. River counts in the East Bay, where I have volunteered to count them for over 40 years, are down. From counts in the thousands to counts of four or five fish, or no fish at all in some rivers.”

Five river council or coalition members gave testimony at the hearing, four from Rhode Island and one from Connecticut. All related the same story: river herring counts are down. And many related that a buffer zone to push back mid-water trawlers during peak river herring runs would prevent by-catch of river herring and that Amendment 10 of the Atlantic Herring management plan should consider such provisions.

However, not everyone believes that mid-water trawlers fishing for Atlantic Herring are the problem. Chris Brown, who first fished for Atlantic Herring with his grandfather, and sometimes trawls for them today out of Point Judith, R.I., said, “When fishing for Atlantic Herring we catch very few river herring, a basket of fish at the most. So trawlers are not the problem. I have been asking NOAA for a vessel observer for a year now and have not received one to observe our catch and by-catch.”

We are still in the public comment period for Amendment 10. Anglers can comment at remaining public hearings or comment at a webinar being held Monday, April 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. Written comments are also being accepted until 8 a.m. (EST) on Tuesday, April 30. For information and instructions on how to comment, visit

‘Gathering On a River’ on April 28

Rhode Island Trout Unlimited Chapter 225 will hold a Gathering on A River, Sunday, April 28, from 2 to 5 p.m. at Whalers Brewing Company in Peach Dale, R.I. Learn about rivers and fish conservation, fly tying and fly fishing, have a pint and meet important conservation groups as river herring migrate right under your feet. In addition to event sponsor RI Trout Unlimited, event partners include Friends of the Saugatucket, River Herring Coalition, Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association, RI Land Trust Council, Rosie’s Bait & Tackle, United Fly tyers of RI, and Hardy/Grey Fishing.

2024 Striper Kickoff April 6

Saltwater Edge, the bait and tackle online store and shop at 1315 West Main Road. Middletown, R.I., will hold their annual Striper Kickoff on Saturday, April 6, starting at 9 a.m. Manufacturers of rods, reels and lures will be on hand, as well as specials and raffles throughout the day.

The Saltwater Edge provides gear, passion, and expertise from bonefish to bluefin. You can find out about where to park for the event, how to obtain an entry ticket prior to opening and more at .

Where’s the bite?

Freshwater fishing: Anglers are advised that the trout fishing season ended Feb. 29 in Rhode Island and reopens again on Saturday, April 13. Vincent Cataldi of Quaker Lane Bait & Tackle, North Kingstown, said, “The largemouth bass bite along with crappie and pickerel has been very good.  Ryan Park, North Kingstown has been producing particularly well for anglers.”

It is time to renew or get freshwater fishing license and trout stamps for the new season too  For freshwater fishing information in Connecticut, visit; in Massachusetts visit Freshwater Fishing |; and in Rhode Island

Dave Monti holds a master captain’s license and charter fishing license. He serves on a variety of boards and commissions and has a consulting business focusing on clean oceans, habitat preservation, conservation, renewable energy, and fisheries related issues and clients. Forward fishing news and photos to or visit

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.