What We Do
​River herring | Credit: Nobleboro Historical Society
  • River Herring


    River herring are socially, economically and ecologically important anadromous fish that live along the Atlantic coast of North America. Anadromous fish are born in freshwater rivers and lakes along the coast and migrate to sea, where they mature into adults and return to freshwater to spawn.

    Why NFWF Intervened

    Since colonial days, fishermen have made a living catching river herring. But river herring populations have declined ever since, with drastic declines of more than 95 percent since the mid-1980s. In 2012, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission listed river herring as depleted throughout its range. Major threats to river herring include freshwater commercial and recreational fishing, bycatch mortality in open-ocean fisheries that target other fish, and barriers to upstream migration.

    Our Goal

    NFWF sought to reverse declines and create sustainable river herring populations by increasing river herring run counts by 300 percent over 2008 levels in targeted index rivers along the eastern United States. Specifically, NFWF sought to:
    • Restore access to, and better manage, key spawning and nursery habitats by removing or modifying fish passage barriers in priority habitats
    • Promote sustainable river herring fisheries in key rivers by determining appropriate harvest rates and developing sustainability plans
    • Reduce river herring bycatch mortality in ocean fisheries by implementing incentives for fishing fleets to avoid river herring hotspots
    • Implement stock assessments, determine ocean bycatch rates, conduct genetic analyses, and identify high priority watersheds and fish passage barriers


    Over the last seven years, we have awarded 38 grants worth over $5 million, leveraged by more than $4.7 million in additional matching funds. Based on river herring run count estimates provided by the states and grantee reports, the initiative has contributed to the following results:
    • 300 percent increase in river herring run counts over 2008 levels in NFWF targeted index rivers, achieving the initiative’s goal
    • 1,120 miles of stream were opened due to fish passage improvements
    • 34,600 acres of spawning habitat opened due to fish passage improvements
    • 3.8 million river herring saved from being killed as bycatch in southern New England coastal waters, due to a fishermen led bycatch avoidance network
    • 47 fishing vessels piloted new strategies to avoid river herring bycatch in the Atlantic herring, mackerel, squid, and butterfish fisheries
    • 16 peer reviewed publications generated
    • 11 technical reports generated that directly informed management
    • 214 volunteers engaged in river herring monitoring programs
    • 1.2 million river herring returning to the Penobscot River in Maine in 2016, a 100-fold increase since 2012 when only 12,000 individuals were recorded
    • Completed first comprehensive biological survey of Maine’s directed river herring fisheries since 1942, placing tens of thousands of acres of spawning habitat under improved state management


    In October 2016, the decision was made to restructure the River Herring initiative from its current form to a broader initiative. This action will provide an opportunity to substantially expand the scope, partnerships, and impacts associated with this initiative by revising it to encompass a broader set of northeastern and mid-Atlantic rivers. For information on current grant opportunities related to River Herring, please visit the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, New England Forests and Rivers Fund, and Delaware River Restoration Fund program pages.

 Application Information

  • (Updated: 2/22/2017)


 Program Information

  • (Updated: 11/13/2012)


 Staff Representatives






 Due Dates


  • No Current Due Dates