Citizen Science ProjectRiver Herring Conservation

The "What" and the "Why"

What are we trying to learn?

We want to know where river herring are traveling to spawn. Herring spend most of their lives in saltwater but travel to freshwater to spawn. By identifying where herring spawn we can identify ways to encourage spawning. Humans have restricted herring access to traditional spawning areas through dams and destruction of habitats. Some dams have fish ladders, which is a series of steps and pools built next to dams that allow fish to bypass the dam and get to waters on the other side. Unfortunately many fish ladders have been found to be ineffective due to their location (the ladder will begin too far from the dam, and is not conducive to herring behavior). In Maryland, a number of dams are being removed out of concern for public safety as well as the effects on herring and shad (another species that travels upstream to spawn). SERC researchers want to know how and if the removal of these dams will have an effect on herring movement throughout tributaries. 

Why do we care about River Herring? So what if they disappear? 

There are really big ecological and economic consequences to losing river herring! Historically, river herring have been one of the most abundant fish in the Chesapeake Bay. Many larger birds and fish rely on herring as a food source. If herring disappear entirely, their larger predators such as striped bass, blue herons, and osprey also become at risk. Humans have also contributed to the decline of river herring population. Dam construction restricts herring spawning migrations, and increased fishing pressure throughout the latter half of the 1900’s drove down herring population. Additionally, the decline and destruction of spawning habitats restricts where herring are able to spawn.

River Herring are already under a moratorium along most of the east coast. This means people can’t intentionally catch herring, or have herring in their possession. The only river sustainable herring fisheries that remain open are in Maine, New York, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, North Carolina, and South Carolina.