A Big Decline of River Herring – Tiny stones in fish hold clues to help restore populations

Many New Englanders still recall the vast springtime runs of river herring. Millions of the small silvery fish swam up coastal freshwater streams, returning from the sea to spawn. Two species of river herring, alewives and blueback herring, are critical components of marine food webs, right up to the fishermen on shore and at sea who harvest them. But in the late 1960s, herring populations sharply declined to as little as one percent of their historic size. Ever more-efficient commercial fishing fleets have swept them up in coastal waters. But even after states banned or limited catches, the fish have not rebounded. To expand access to historical spawning habitats, some communities have also begun removing dams. In 2014, Joel Llopiz launched a project, funded by Woods Hole Sea Grant, with colleagues at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. The researchers are collecting and examining larval herring in four coastal river/pond systems of different sizes in Massachusetts. The systems also vary in their impacts from pollution, urban development, and agriculture. Continue reading here with more images 15:42