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Restoring Habitats for River Herring has Broad Social and Environmental Benefits

River herring (alewife and blueback herring) reproduce and spend their first several months in lakes, rivers, and estuaries before migrating to the ocean where they grow and mature into adults. They support both marine and freshwater food webs from the Atlantic coast of Canada to the St. Johns River in Florida. However, their populations declined substantially in the latter half of the 20th century to current historic lows. While certain rivers, largely in northern New England, still support limited fisheries, they are only a small fraction of what was once a tremendously productive coastal fishery. A new habitat conservation plan will help address the threats they face and recommend techniques to restore their habitat and increase their populations.

River herring historically represented an economically and culturally significant source of predictable and abundant protein upon their return to coastal rivers each spring. Population declines have been driven by stressors including decreased connectivity between ocean and freshwater habitats, degraded freshwater and estuary habitats, and climate change. Barriers to fish passage created by dams, culverts, and other human infrastructure are among the most persistent and detrimental impacts. There are more than 35,000 dams and 200,000 road stream crossings on the East Coast, many of which are barriers to fish migrations.

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