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River herring avoidance in the Atlantic herring and mackerel fisheries


The incidental catch of river herring by vessels targeting Atlantic herring and mackerel has become a concern for their conservation. Though the direct effect of this bycatch on river herring populations is unknown, managers have created river herring catch limits. If river herring catch limits are reached, large areas of the Atlantic herring fishery or the entire mackerel fishery would be closed. This collaborative project between mid-water trawl fishermen, Rhode Island bottom trawl fishermen, the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, and SMAST seeks to reduce river herring and shad bycatch independent of management action; aiding in the effort to rebuild river herring and providing fishermen with a tool to avoid area closures.

Sampling catch of herring boat

The project involves increasing portside sampling, a near real-time information system on the location bycatch events, and testing if oceanographic features can be used to indicate areas with a high probability of bycatch. Portside sampling through the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, which samples about 50% of all landings in Massachusetts, is the main information source for the project. However, several other institutions contribute to the project to increase the number of trips monitored. All observations from the Northeast Fisheries Observer Program are reported in near real-time, while the vessels are at-sea. NOAA Study Fleet and the Maine Department of Marine Resource provide additional samples when the vessels land. The project was started in 2010, with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife foundation. It is now sustained by the Atlantic herring Research Set Aside (RSA) program. 

Click here for an evaluation of project results. 

Recent Bycatch Maps

Final Winter 2020 Mid-water Trawl 

Herring Research Set Aside (RSA) Information: Through the Atlantic herring RSA program, SMAST recieved 347 mt of Atlantic herring quota in 2020 to generate funds for the river herring bycatch avoidance and portside monitoring programs. The 2020 RSA quota was distributed to companies that previsouly agreed to be held to a higher standard while harvesting RSA quota and consitently particapted in the river herring bycatch avoidance program as outlined in a Responsible Fishing Agreement

Click here to receive text alerts about RSA fishing activity 

2020 RSA Landings and River herring bycatch

Area Quota Distributed RSA Trips Landed RSA Trips Monitored Atlantic Herring Landed River Herring Bycatch
1A 100 mt 3 0 69 mt --
1B 14 mt 0 0 0 0
2 96 mt 0 0 0 0
3 135 mt 2 0 41 mt --


MyMARACOOS (Bycatch and Oceanographic Conditions)

Squid Trawl Network River herring avoidance

Past Avoidance System Results

Bycatch classifcations were changed in 2015 to reflect river herring catch limits. Since then high bycatch eventsrelfect a rate at which river herring catch limits will be reached before mid-water trawl Atlantic herring or Atlantic mackerel catch limits. Take caution when comparing high bycatch events between years. 

For more information, contact:       

Brad Schondelmeier  978-282-0308 x123

David Bethoney  401-515-4662 


SMAST Bycatch Avoidance Program

Capt. Chris Wright enters yellowtail bycatch information into Boatracs reporting macro onboard the F/V Huntress

SMAST is running the Bycatch Avoidance Program for yellowtail and windowpane flounder in fishing year 2017, including the Closed Area II access area on Georges Bank. 

The Bycatch Avoidance program uses near real-time communications with fishing vessels to determine the location of bycatch hotspots to assist scallopers in harvesting their target scallop allocation without triggering bycatch accountability measures. The program was started in 2010 with the collaboration of the scallop fleet. 

Deckload of scallops on the F/V Huntress‌Bycatch Update: Latest Bycatch Advisory

The 2017 SMAST Bycatch Avoidance Program began on March 23, 2017.  

All information to participate can be found in the links below:

For more information or to sign up to participate, contact:        

Brooke Wright:, 508-910-6372 


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