The Atlantic herring is one of the most important fish (PDF) in the waters off of the northeastern United States. These small, nutrient-rich fish are eaten by larger fish we love to catch and eat–tuna, haddock, cod and striped bass. Herring are also food for iconic animals of the Atlantic Ocean like whales, dolphins, seals and seabirds. Coastal communities that depend on commercial and sport fishing, whale watching and tourism need plenty of herring in order for the ecosystem–and their businesses–to thrive.
Evolution in Herring Fishing: Bigger, not Better
Herring have been caught with weirs for centuries, but in the last decade, fishing for Atlantic herring (PDF) has changed primarily from small boat fleets using purse seine gear to industrial-scale gear (PDF) called “midwater trawling.” These large vessels tow massive nets that jeopardize the health of herring populations with little regard for their impact on ocean life and coastal communities.
The Challenge: Determining What is Going On
One of the biggest problems with this industrial fishery is poor monitoring. Alarming evidence of bycatch by herring trawlers continues to emerge, suggesting that the problems are greater than existing data reveals. It’s time to turn the Atlantic herring fishery from one that is largely unobserved into a fishery that must follow the same rules as other fishermen in America’s waters. Pew's campaign seeks to reform this fishery through improved regulation of the fleet (PDF) so that Atlantic herring, and the animals that depend on them, will thrive.