Water, Earth, Sky

Scott Shenk writes about the environment.

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River herring catch a break

After years of hauling them in by the bucket, anglers this year must let the silver, blue-backed fish–prized as a fried breakfast treat, and as bait–to swim on by.  With the spawning runs of shad, herring and rockfish just around the corner, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission is reminding anglers that catching or possessing river herring is illegal. A moratorium kicked in Jan. 1 because stocks of the fish have collapsed along the East Coast. Technically, the protected fish are the river herring and alewife. The VMRC notes  that herring were a staple along mainstem rivers, including the Rappahannock and Potomac and their tributaries, since the 1700s. “Commercial fleets pulled in 75 million pounds of herring in 1958,” the agency says. By 2005, the numbers had dropped by 99 percent. Overfishing, loss of spawning and nursery habitat, degreaded water quality and construction of dams and spillways all have contributed to the decline.

The moratorium is sure to be felt along the Rappahannock, where anglers in past years have flocked to get the fish in dipnets, and by hook and line.

An illustration of river herring and alewife.