Prohibition on the Taking of Alewife and Blueback Herring from Connecticut Waters Extended for Another Year

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today announced
that the prohibition on the taking of alewives and blueback herring
from most inland and marine waters of the State of Connecticut has
been extended for another year. This action was initially taken in
April of 2002, and then extended each successive year. The current
action by DEP Deputy Commissioner Susan Frechette extends the
prohibition through March 31, 2012.

“Since 2002, states along the East Coast have all experienced
dramatic declines in river herring populations. To combat this
decline, the closure of these fisheries must remain in place,” said
Deputy Commissioner Frechette.

River herring is a term used to collectively refer to alewife
and the blueback herring. Both species are anadromous, which means
they hatch in freshwater, migrate to the ocean to grow, then return
to freshwater to spawn. Historically, millions of river herring
returned to Connecticut rivers and streams each year. In 1985, over
630,000 blueback herring were passed over the Holyoke Dam, on the
Connecticut River. By 2006, only 21 passed the Holyoke Dam
(Massachusetts), the lowest number in the history of the Holyoke
Fishlift. Last year that number had risen only to 76. While the
reasons for these historically low levels are not fully understood,
DEP biologists believe predation by increasingly abundant striped
bass and undocumented catch in the ocean may be important
factors.

“River herring comprise a large portion of the diet of many
species of freshwater and marine gamefish, as well as osprey, bald
eagle, harbor seals, porpoise, egrets, kingfishers and river
otter,” said William Hyatt, Chief of DEP’s Bureau of Natural
Resources, “and it is important to protect river herring runs as a
means of conserving all of these other species.” DEP wildlife
biologists have noted that strong runs of river herring enhance the
survival rate of osprey chicks.

Non-migratory alewife populations are also established in
several lakes and ponds in Connecticut. The DEP prohibition does
not include landlocked alewives from Amos Lake, Ball Pond, Beach
Pond, Candlewood Lake, Crystal Lake, Highland Lake, Lake
Quassapaug, Lake Quonnipaug, Rogers Lake, Squantz Pond, Uncas Pond,
and Lake Waramaug. Alewives in these lakes may still be taken by
angling and scoop net as established in state statute and
regulation.

Hyatt indicated that the prohibition is expected to stay in
place until monitoring by the DEP indicates that the population has
recovered to the point where it could safely support some level of
harvest. “Protecting populations of wild fish is one of our top
priorities,” Hyatt said, “and monitoring conducted during 2010
indicated that the river herring stocks remain very low with no
signs of an imminent recovery. The fishery closure will provide
critical protection to small spawning runs until such time as the
regional trend is reversed,” noted Hyatt.

The DEP continues its other efforts to enhance river herring
stocks by transplanting adult herring from streams with healthy
runs into streams where runs have been eliminated or greatly
depleted, removing obsolete dams and building fishways that allow
fish to migrate past remaining dams. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service is assisting the DEP with the transplantation effort.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has adopted an
amendment to its Fishery Management Plan for river herring that
requires all coastal states to improve their monitoring of river
herring runs and take positive conservation actions. The New
England Fishery Management Council is also considering changes to
the Atlantic herring fishery in federal waters to reduce the
accidental harvest of river herring in the ocean.

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