Bring back the herring!

Published 10:15 am Tuesday, July 19, 2016

GATESVILLE – Have herring made a comeback in the Chowan River and its tributaries?

Larry Davis believes that to be true and is asking the Gates County Board of Commissioners to help restore this once thriving fishery for local anglers to enjoy.

Speaking before the Gates County Board of Commissioners at their regularly scheduled meeting on July 6, Davis said he was a part of the Concerned Citizens of Gates County that are asking for the restoration of herring fishing.

“We’re seeking the help of the Gates County Board of Commissioners in the reestablishment of our right to resume herring fishing in our inland waterways,” Davis said.

Herring fishing has been banned by the state for the past nine years due to depleted stocks of this particular species.

“We understand that it was necessary at that time (2007) to prohibit the fishing of herring, but the herring population has now increased substantially,” Davis said.

He stressed that herring fishing is now nearly a lost art among younger anglers.

“Our forefathers passed down the art of herring fishing. We believe, if the fishery is properly regulated, we can continue that historical tradition,” he noted. “Right now we have an entire generation of young people that have no idea of what it’s like to put on a pair of hip boots, stand in a creek with a bow net and waiting to feel the rush of five-to-ten herring hitting that net all at once. They also don’t know the joy in cleaning, notching and deep frying those herrings for a wonderful meal. Please help us restore the deep traditions that have been in place for years.”

Davis and his group proposed that the commissioners write and approve a resolution in support of lifting the ban on herring fishing and send it to state officials, to include the members of the North Carolina General Assembly that represent Gates County. The Hertford County Board of Commissioners earlier approved such a resolution after hearing from herring fishermen in their area.

“We’re not talking about going back to where we once caught thousands and thousands of herring every year; we’re just talking about having the right to go in a catch some for our personal consumption,” Davis said.

He added that his group fully expects if herring fishing is again allowed, it will come with restrictions set by the state.

“Having a daily limit per person or per boat is an option,” he said. “We also suggest the state could look at assessing a special $10 fee (added to the fishing license) for herring fishing. There are all sorts of ways to restore the privilege of herring fishing while also protecting the species.”

The county commissioners took no action on the request, telling Davis they would need further study on the issue.

While Davis suggests that the herring population in local waterways is on the rebound, a 2014 report from the state cites that river herring (Blueback and Alewife) stock is depleted in the Albemarle Sound Management Area, which includes the Chowan and Meherrin rivers and their tributaries.

That report shows no recreational harvest for river herring has been allowed since 2007.

The state’s report reads, “Despite the fishing moratorium implemented in 2007, river herring in North Carolina are still considered overfished. The targets for considering the stocks to be rebuilt have not been met. In particular, recruitment and juvenile (herring) abundance are still below the targets for rebuilding.”

Herring spend the majority of their life in the ocean, returning only to fresh water to spawn from March through May in coastal rivers and tributaries. After the eggs hatch, juvenile herring spend their first season in fresh and brackish waters, eventually migrating to the ocean.

The Albemarle Sound and its tributaries were historically at the center of the commercial and recreational fisheries for river herring.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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