Research ProjectRiver Herring Conservation

Conservation of River Herring Spawning Runs in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

  • River herring (alewife) underwater

    Alewife spawning in Big Gunpowder Falls, Maryland.

  • Collecting river herring eggs

    Collecting river herring eggs

  • River herring

    River herring spawning in the Choptank River, Maryland

  • Boat electrofishing for river herring

    Getting ready for boat electrofishing to catch river herring

Project Goal

To document the current status of river herring spawning runs in Chesapeake Bay and provide data supporting conservation and management decision-making.

Description

Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) and Blueback Herring (Alosa aestivalis), collectively referred to as river herring, are anadromous fish living much of their life in the ocean but which migrate to freshwater to spawn in the same streams they were born in. In the Chesapeake Bay region, Alewife begin their spawning runs in late February and early March with Blueback Herring appearing in April. Historically, river herring supported a highly valuable fishery along the Atlantic Coast of North America and were an important component of coastal food webs. Over the past few decades, river herring populations have declined by more than 90% due to habitat loss, overfishing, pollution and other threats like declining water quality, alteration of physical characteristics of streams, and issues related to climate change. We work with federal, state, academic and NGO partners to document and monitor river herring spawning in the Chesapeake Bay in an effort to conserve and restore this once prosperous and important forage fish and fishery. 

Our approach:
We’re documenting the presence or absence of river herring in the major tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, and in those tributaries where we find river herring we’re using sonar, animal tracking, and environmental DNA technology, along with traditional biological sampling, to study population dynamics.