Commercial and recreational fishermen are challenging two government agencies for failing to protect river herring and shad from being caught and killed by Atlantic industrial fisheries.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the National Marine Fisheries Service both are required to take measures to stem the decline of river herring and shad populations and have failed to do so, according to the public interest law firm Earthjustice, representing the Martha’s Vineyard/Duke’s County Fishermen’s Association and angler Michael S. Flaherty in the lawsuit.

In a media release, the executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard/Dukes County Fishermen’s Association, Warren Doty, said “The game of ping-pong between the Commission and Fisheries Service – where each agency points their finger at the other to act and does nothing themselves – has led to the continued steep decline of river herring and shad.”

River herring are a critical component of the coastal ecosystem along the Eastern seaboard, providing a significant source of food for a variety of fish, birds and mammals. Since 1985 there has been over a 90 per cent decline in river herring populations, according to recent data. Shad is a separate fish species and similarly threatened.

“Midwater trawling for herring and mackerel is an unsustainable fishing method that threatens all species of river herring, shad, groundfish and other stocks through overfishing and the disruption of the ocean ecology,” said Mr. Doty in the statement.