Management and Monitoring

Regional Efforts to Rebuild River Herring

Fishing for river herring is managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), a cooperative interstate organization that coordinates the conservation and management of the nearshore fishery resources along the Atlantic coast. ASMFC adopted the first fishery management plan (FMP) for river herring in 1985. In May 2009, ASFMC responded to ongoing declines in many river herring stocks by adopting Amendment 2 to the FMP. The amendment required states to implement fisheries-dependent and independent monitoring programs, and it contains recommendations to member states and jurisdictions to conserve, restore, and protect critical river herring habitat. Amendment 2 also required states to prohibit all commercial and recreational fishing for river herring, unless the state has a sustainable fishery management plan approved by ASFMC.


Managing Sustainable Fisheries

The states of Maine, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, and South Carolina have sustainable fishery plans for river herring that have been approved by ASMFC. For each of those states, river herring harvests were approved for certain river systems where it could be demonstrated that a harvest would not diminish the ability of the river herring population to perpetuate itself. Each of those states developed specific sustainability targets, including repeat spawning ratios, the amount of the river herring population able to spawn, juvenile abundance levels, fish passage counts, hatchery contribution to stocks, and bycatch rates.

Where sustainable river herring harvests continue to operate, they generate a small but important local source of revenue, provide a local bait source for the lobster fishery, and encourage local pride and stewardship of the runs. Many of the people who continue to harvest river herring are the same people who collect important data and work to improve fish passage for local runs.


Keeping Track of Population Size and Traits

Efforts to monitor river herring have expanded in recent years so that fishery managers will have improved data for determining the status and trends of alewife and blueback herring populations. During the springtime spawning runs, state and federal government conduct monitoring in rivers and coastal waters along the Eastern Seaboard. Monitoring methods vary among locations and may include visual or video counts, electronic recorders, seine nets, and sampling of age, length, sex, and species.

A number of monitoring programs rely on volunteers, and volunteer opportunities are often available.

Public crowd-sourcing of video counts is a new approach to accelerate data collection in support of river herring conservation and restoration.


River Herring Monitoring Sites

Please tell us about monitoring sites in your area so we can add them to this map! Email us at

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Diadromous Fish Biology and Management Project annually monitors the abundance and biological characteristics of multiple river herring runs throughout coastal Massachusetts. These efforts also include spawning and nursery habitat assessments and providing technical assistance to municipalities, watershed groups, and other non-governmental organizations at river sites where volunteer river herring counts are conducted and responses to habitat restoration are monitored. Our project is focused on river herring population restoration through fish passage and habitat improvements and inter-jurisdictional resource management. Brad Chase

Senior Marine Fisheries Biologist, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries

My office conducts river herring population assessments from April to June in the Connecticut River, targeting the lower reaches of larger tributaries in Connecticut and Massachusetts on over 20 sample dates. We use boat electrofishing to obtain information on species, length, weight, sex, and age structure. We process several thousand bluebacks and several hundred alewife typically. Relative abundance measures are also generated for both species. All data can be compared between areas and over time. Status and trend information for all these measures are being generated and will be used for stock assessment purposes. Kenneth Sprankle

Connecticut River Coordinator, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service