Protecting a Key Forage Fish Off the Atlantic Coast

The Atlantic herring is one of the most important fish in the waters off of the northeastern United States, serving a vital role in ocean ecosystems, like all forage fish, as prey for larger animals. These small, nutrient-rich fish swim in large schools and feed larger fish that Americans love to eat—tuna, haddock, cod, and striped bass—and animals they love to watch, such as whales, dolphins, and birds.

In the 1990s, the herring fishery transformed from fleets of small boats to industrial-scale trawlers. These large vessels can remove millions of pounds of fish from the ocean in one pass of the net—a scale that jeopardizes both herring and the many species that eat them.

Herring play a major role in the food chain, and when setting catch limits for fishing, managers must ensure that enough are left to support other species. Already, fishermen are catching almost a third of the roughly 300,000 tons of the herring that predators need every year. Further, evidence suggests that trawlers may be catching and killing more nontarget ocean wildlife than they self-report, so managers need to do more to minimize this bycatch.

Pew works as part of the Herring Alliance, a coalition of 109 organizations representing every coastal Atlantic state from Maine to North Carolina, to advocate for catch limits that account for the needs of predators, measures to reduce bycatch, and protections of critical feeding areas for predator fish, seabirds, and other marine wildlife from the impacts of the industrial herring fishery.