BELLINGHAM – The National Marine Fisheries Service announced today that it will conduct a status review to determine if Cherry Point herring deserve federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The announcement comes after an 8 month review initiated when a coalition of conservation groups filed a petition requesting federal protection for the herring. Cherry Point herring are a distinct population of Pacific herring that spawn along the open shoreline north of Bellingham.
"This a first step toward recovery of Cherry Point herring," said Dave Werntz, Science Director with the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, "Federal fisheries biologists agree that Cherry Point herring may be heading toward extinction and deserve help."
Cherry Point herring are distinct from other Pacific herring in many respects. Their unique spawning location and timing have reproductively isolated Cherry Point herring from other Puget Sound herring, and recent studies indicate that Cherry Point herring are the most genetically divergent herring population in Washington. Unlike other herring that migrate out to sea, young Cherry Point herring move to freshwater influenced environments, like estuaries, to feast on the copepods that occur there.
"Federal protection and restoration of Cherry Point herring will benefit everything from eelgrass to orcas," said Fred Felleman, Northwest Director for Ocean Advocates, "Their recovery is important for restoring the health and vitality of Puget Sound and its wildlife."
The Cherry Point herring was once Washington State's largest herring population. Over the last three decades, its population plummeted by 90 percent and they are not rebounding. Cherry Point herring face numerous threats from industrial development along their spawning grounds. Already, two major oil refineries and an aluminum smelter near Cherry Point have directly impacted herring spawning grounds through dock construction and operation, outfall discharge, vessel traffic, and disease and foreign species introduced from ship ballast water. Accidental spills of oil and other poisons also pose a considerable threat to the Cherry Point herring.
"Cherry Point herring are unique among Pacific herring and have specific qualities that may help herring adjust to global climate change," said Brent Plater, Attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, "the loss of the Cherry Point herring would be a blow to the Puget Sound ecosystem and detrimental to Pacific herring everywhere."
Groups submitting the petition are Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Ocean Advocates, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, People For Puget Sound, Friends of the San Juans, and Sam Wright.