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What's for Dinner? Protecting the Atlantic Ocean Marine Food Web

April 5, 2013

From whales to striped bass, important marine animals eat smaller fish and organisms to survive. These prey, or "forage fish," in the food web are critical to a healthy ocean ecosystem. But people are not doing enough to ensure the abundance of prey species to feed valuable fish populations and marine life. The need to protect this basic prey, which ranges from mackerel and menhaden to herring and anchovies, is growing more urgent. Populations of some of these small fish have plummeted. Millions are scooped up by industrial fishing gear and ground into fertilizer and pet food. Millions more are caught by accident in trawler nets. Without this important food staple, diets are compromised, and it's a scramble to find suitable substitutes. That disruption can send an unhealthy ripple effect stretching across the ocean ecosystem. Protecting the prey is fundamental to rebuilding depleted fish populations, conserving marine animals, and maintaining a balanced food web.

American Shad

April 23, 2012

American shad populations are in serious decline along the Atlantic Coast. By restoring American shad we can protect rivers and coastal ecosystems where shad provide a crucial source of food to other wildlife including striped bass, bluefish, shorebirds, and marine mammals. At the same time, we can revive a favorite sport fish and a prized delicacy.

Mid-Atlantic River Herring

August 1, 2011

Populations of alewife and blueback herring are in serious decline along the Atlantic coast and face numerous threats. These fish—called river herring—play an important ecological role in rivers and coastal waters, providing a crucial source of food to wildlife. By restoring river herring, we can help protect an entire ecosystem.

Atlantic Herring: History of a Fishery

September 23, 2010

In the first half of the 20th century, herring were fished primarily with small-scale, low-impact gear such as weirs and purse seines. But in the 1960s, large foreign fleets equipped with massive trawl nets began catching amounts of herring previously unimaginable. By the late 1970s, the offshore population of Atlantic herring had collapsed. This prompted Congress in 1976 to expel foreign vessels from within 200 miles of U.S. coastal waters under the original Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Bycatch and Monitoring

September 10, 2010

Herring play a vital role in the North Atlantic ecosystem—serving as food for tuna, cod, striped bass, seabirds, dolphins and whales. But herring and their predators are threatened by industrial-scale fishing by midwater trawlers. Up to 165 feet in length, these ships are the largest fishing vessels on the East Coast, capable of netting 500,000 pounds of sea life in one tow. Although these vessels fish for Atlantic herring, the fish, birds and marine mammals that feed on herring schools are also vulnerable to accidental capture, injury or death in the trawlers' massive nets.

Atlantic Herring - A Keystone Species in the Northwest Atlantic

May 24, 2010

The Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) is one of the most important fishes in New England. This energy-rich species plays a vital role in the region's marine ecosystem, serving as food for many of the ocean's key predators. Recent research reveals that predators can consume 300,000 tons of herring a year— roughly three times the amount caught by fishermen annually. Given the major role herring play in the food chain, managers need to take into account the needs of predators when setting fishing limits for herring.

Empty Rivers: The Decline of River Herring and the Need to Reduce Mid-Water Trawl Bycatch

October 31, 2007

Examines the effects of industrial mid-water trawlers on river herring populations along the East Coast and makes recommendations for how to protect herring stocks.