Ravaging of the river herring population by midwater trawlers and an absence of round-the-clock environmental police protection were the hot topics at a meeting between Cape and Islands Rep. Tim Madden and members of the newly formed Martha’s Vineyard Dukes County Fishermen’s Association Friday.


Herring have arrived in Vineyard waters, and this is particularly good news for a fish in trouble. Years ago local fishermen used to count the herring by the barrel; today they are counted only by the handful.

This is the fourth spring Massachusetts anglers have been prohibited from catching these fish. The state moratorium is a hardline effort to protect the fish from further decline. An initial three-year moratorium was renewed; it is to last another two years.


A moratorium on the taking of river herring, instituted three years ago because of dwindling stocks, appears set to be extended for another three years.

A decision will not be announced until next Friday, but a public hearing attended by Vineyard fishermen last week made it clear the fishery was still far from recovered.

Paul Diodati, the director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, said there had been some improvement in stocks, but populations were still low.

Protecting the Herring

More than one hundred fifty years ago, Henry David Thoreau noted the many rivers on Cape Cod named for herring. The day could come, he mused in his book Cape Cod, when people might find more Herring Rivers on the Cape than herring.

While that day has yet to come, the scarcity of herring in recent years from runs throughout Massachusetts, including on the Vineyard, has endowed Thoreau’s observation with an eerie prophecy.


Herring are harbingers of spring. The first of them usually appear in Island waters now. But there is serious concern about the health of the fishery across the region.

Although Massachusetts is in the third year of a moratorium on the harvesting of these small fish, the fishery has failed to rebound. Fishing prohibitions are also in place in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Also known as alewives and river herring, these anadromous fish make a pilgrimage every spring into coastal estuaries, to spawn in the freshwater pond where they themselves were created.


Fishermen, Regulators Brace for Spring Herring Moratorium


Alewives, one of the great harbingers of spring, have returned to
Vineyard waters.

But there is a crucial difference this year: the state of
Massachusetts has barred people from catching or possessing these
anadramous fish, which return from the ocean to spawn in freshwater