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RALEIGH, N.C. (Oct. 13) - The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission today proposed a rules change that would prohibit the taking and possession of river herring from inland fishing waters of coastal rivers and their tributaries up to the first impoundments of the main rivers.

The rules change, which would go into effect July 1, 2006, will be discussed at the nine public hearings across the state in January.

Currently, anglers in inland fishing waters may take 25 river herring, which is a collective term for alewife and blueback herring.

The Commission also passed a motion expressing to the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) its "deep concern over potentially irreversible collapse of river herring fishing in waters that we are individually and collectively charged with managing." The Commission further urged MFC to join with it in declaring a moratorium on the fishery.

A moratorium is needed to help counteract the river herring's dramatic decline over the last few decades. Throughout the 1970s, commercial landings of river herring averaged 10 million pounds annually. By 1999, the commercial catch, listed as overfished by the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, had fallen to 500,000 and last year, the catch was a meager 188,541 pounds. The commercial net fishery, which is regulated by DMF, has a cap of 300,000 pounds per year, but that total has not been reached since 2001.

Biologists aren't certain why river herring stocks are on the verge of collapse, although they suspect overfishing and pollution are contributing factors. Because river herring spend the bulk of their lives in saltwater before returning to rivers to spawn, the damming of spawning rivers also may play a part in their decline.

While the two species have a modest recreational fishing value, they are sold mainly for their roe and their use as crab pot bait and pet food. They are a very important forage fish for several game fish, including striped bass, largemouth bass and some catfish species.

River herring have provided a valuable commercial fishery on North Carolina's Coastal Plain, particularly on the Chowan River, and their recovery to sustainable stocks is imperative, according to John Pechmann, chairman of the Wildlife Commission.

"The river herring is in grave danger, and we have an overriding obligation to act responsibly to ensure survival of the resource," Pechmann said.

Biologists are unsure of how quickly the species can rebound.

"They are a prolific fish with high reproductive potential, which could allow them to recover in only a few years," said Bennett Wynne, a fisheries research coordinator for the Wildlife Commission. "We do know that river herring numbers are at extremely low levels."

For more information on river herring or fishing in North Carolina's public, inland fishing waters, call the Division of Inland Fisheries, (919) 707-0220, or visit the Wildlife Commission's Web site,
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