“Despite the conservation efforts taken by this agency and others over the past decade, the runs of river herring in Connecticut are still diminished,” said DEEP Deputy Commissioner Susan Whalen. “The best available data from this past year indicates that the closure of these fisheries must therefore remain in place.”
River herring is a term used collectively to refer to alewife and 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’s rivers and streams each year. More than 630,000 blueback herring were passed over the Holyoke Dam (Massachusetts) on the Connecticut River in 1985. By 2006, only 21 passed the Holyoke Dam, the lowest number in the history of the Holyoke Fishlift. Numbers have fluctuated since that time but have never surpassed 1,000. In 2014 the number of fish passed was 648. While river herring are not typically consumed by humans, they are important food to many species of freshwater and marine gamefish, as well as ospreys, bald eagles, harbor seals, porpoises, egrets, kingfishers and river otters.
“Anglers on the Connecticut River last spring will agree that there were more blueback herring than we’ve seen in many years,” said William Hyatt, Chief of DEEP’s Bureau of Natural Resources. “But the numbers were well shy of what we had prior to the decline that began in the mid-1980s. Furthermore, the number of alewives along the shoreline actually decreased in 2014. We need to ensure that any recovery is real and sustainable before we lift harvest restrictions.”
“We don’t want to re-open our fisheries only to have the numbers drop back down again,” Hyatt said. “We must continue to protect both river herring species until both populations have recovered to the point where they could safely support some level of harvest.”
Non-migratory alewife populations are established in several lakes and ponds in Connecticut. The DEEP prohibition does not include landlocked alewives from Amos Lake, Ball Pond, Beach Pond, Candlewood Lake, Crystal Lake, Highland Lake, Mount Tom Pond, Lake Quassapaug, Lake Quonnipaug, 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. Rogers Lake was previously on that list but with the completion of the latest fishway there, sea-run alewives can now enter Rogers Lake to spawn. To avoid any confusion between the two types of alewives, the protection has been extended to landlocked alewives in Rogers Lake.
The DEEP 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.
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