January 3, 2006

No Herring for You!

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has taken the extraordinary step recently of placing a three-year ban on harvesting, possessing or selling herring.

Also known as alewives, herring are a key member of the food chain along our coast and their decline has been noticed over the last several years leading up to the state's recent action. The ban will affect over 100 herring runs along the commonwealths coast, and is sure to cause complaints by recreational and commercial fishermen alike.

Herring leave the ocean each spring to lay eggs in freshwater rivers and ponds. They are a favorite food of many fish, seabirds and whales. In a debate that will clearly go on, many believe the decline in herring can be attributed to a combination of destruction of habitat, an increase in natural predators and over-fishing by both recreational and commercial anglers.

Unfortunately, another probable cause of the depletion of the herring are the offshore trawlers that use large nets and often work in pairs to trap tons of sea herring that is sold as bait or shipped overseas. The state has indicated that is studying the impact of offshore fishing on herring stocks, but as of now say they have insufficient data to make any connection between the offshore fishing fleet and the depletion of river herring.

Whatever the cause, I applaud Massachusetts for their effort to preserve this key part of our marine ecosystem. There are plenty of other baits for those of us who are anglers, and this effort at conservation will hopefully ensure that the herring population can once again regain its strong foothold from the Gulf of Maine to Buzzards Bay.

Gilmore Bridge Sunset, Newburyport, MA © 2006 Frank G. Dwyer

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