Groups Go To Court to Protect Blueback Herring from Extinction

Challenge flawed decision not to list imperiled river herring as a “threatened species”

Washington, D.C. – The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and a coalition of fishing and watershed protection groups filed a complaint in federal court seeking to reverse a decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) not to list the blueback herring as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Blueback herring once spawned in huge numbers in rivers along the Atlantic coast and were a major prey species for an array of fish, mammals, and birds. But due to habitat destruction, fishing, and water pollution, blueback herring populations have been reduced to tiny fragments of their original sizes.

“The blueback herring is in desperate need of federal protection – a fishery that dates back at least 350 years has declined almost 99 percent over the last fifty,” said Brad Sewell, a senior attorney at NRDC. “Rescuing and ultimately bringing back river herring will be a boon for our coastal ecosystems and fisheries.”

The groups are asking that U.S District Court in DC find NMFS in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and that the court order the federal agency to prepare a new listing determination within six months.

“The fate of the Mid-Atlantic blueback herring population is part of a bigger picture,” said Earthjustice Attorney Roger Fleming. “River herring and shad – keystone species in the Atlantic Ocean and coastal rivers food chain – are victims of industrial fishing operations, compounding decades of harm from habitat destruction and pollution. But the larger problem is the lack of protection from federal oversight agencies.”

In August 2011, NRDC petitioned NMFS to list blueback herring as threatened under the ESA, and to designate critical habitat for the species. Two years later, the Service published its determination that the blueback herring was not likely to become in danger of extinction and does not warrant protection under the ESA — despite the government’s acknowledgement that the species was likely at or less than two percent of its historical baseline (based on catch levels) and that three out of four regional blueback herring populations in the U.S. were likely still decreasing. NRDC and Earthjustice, on behalf of several fishing and watershed groups, filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue for ESA protection of the imperiled river herring in October 2014.

For the entire release at NRDC