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River Herring and Shad Denied Protections at Sea

The shad, an iconic fish in Virginia, has been denied saltwater protections. (Shermon Foote Denton)
The shad, an iconic fish in Virginia, has been denied saltwater protections. (Shermon Foote Denton)
October 10, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. -- Fishery regulators have refused to put ocean catch limits on shad and river herring, drawing criticism from recreational fishermen and conservationists in Virginia and across the nation.

The iconic fish now are under badly needed protections for the parts of their lives they spend in rivers and waters close to the East Coast, said Joseph Gordon, manager for U.S. Oceans Northeast at The Pew Charitable Trusts. But he said, millions of the embattled shad and river herring are caught in federal ocean waters farther from the coast - often as accidental bycatch.

“In the end there's no limit in the ocean to how many of these fish can be taken and there's no plan to reduce the catch,” Gordon said. "Hollow statements of support are not enough for species that are this depleted, and in the case of blueback herring, listed at risk for extinction."

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council recently turned down proposed catch limits. The fishing industry has described the limits as unnecessary over-regulation.

Historically, shad were so plentiful in Virginia rivers they were easily harvested in huge numbers. Gordon said they've been nicknamed America's founding fish; George Washington was a shad fisherman.

Now the numbers have fallen so low that eastern coastal states have all banned shad fishing entirely, Gordon said. But more than 100,000 pounds of the fish are estimated to be caught in the Atlantic each year - a serious threat to the shad and similar river herring.

"A lot of the states feel like they've done almost all that was possible to protect that part of the life cycle of these species,” Gordon said. "If that large catch in the oceans was held in control, the populations might rebound in a very significant way."

According to the Pew Charitable Trust, the public overwhelmingly supports conservation measures. Gordon said the fisheries managers need to come around on the issue.

For more information, visit PewTrusts.org

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Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA