Study to Test New Method of Estimating River Herring Population

Courtesy of East Carolina University: ECU Researchers Michael Brewer, Erin Field and Roger Rulifson received funding to survey river herring using eDNA.

HYANNIS – The Atlantic Marine Fisheries Commission and NOAA Fisheries have awarded about $40,000 to researchers at East Carolina University to further study a new way of surveying river herring using environmental DNA.

In 2013 a coast-wide effort by NOAA and other partners started to proactively conserve river herring and fill data gaps.

River herring spend most of their lives in the ocean but spawn in freshwater. The important fish have declined significantly due to habitat degradation, overfishing, climate change and passage impediments.

The project examines the new approach of using eDNA rather than traditional, labor-intensive methods to count herring.

Environmental DNA is DNA collected from samples of soil, water or even air instead of sampling an organism directly. Examples include feces, mucus, shed skin and carcasses.

The project will develop eDNA methods to measure the abundance of river herring by calibrating the method already used in a pilot study in North Carolina in two Massachusetts watersheds in collaboration with Mass Division of Marine Fisheries.

The project will access the validity of the new method by comparing traditional counts with fish abundance estimates using eDNA.

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