The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe manages a natural herring fishery at the Tribe's Herring Creek. The Tribe leases the herring creek to a Tribal member, the current lease holder is Capt. William Vanderhoop, Jr. The licensee conforms to all applicable State and Tribal laws regarding the taking of herring.
The licensee keeps a record of the daily totals of herring caught, the days the herring were and were not "fished." As a conservation measure the fishery is closed 3 days each week. This allows a large percentage of the herring to reach their spawning grounds. This in turn ensures the viability of this critical cultural resource.
Herring spawn in the early spring, beginning approximately in mid March and continuing till June. The herring’ arrival is announced to Tribal fishermen by the blooming of the "Shad bush." Herring are conceived in fresh water. They spend the first few months of development in their fresh water nurseries and then return to salt water until they reach sexual maturity and are ready to spawn another generation. These herring will return to their original birthplace to complete their cycle of life.
Tribal fishermen harvest herring during their spawning run from salt water to fresh. Herring are netted from an impoundment as they attempt to reach their spawning waters. Once netted, female herring are stripped of their "roe," eggs, and this roe is sold as a delicacy food item. Some herring are pickled and sold in jars. Herring is also used by commercial lobstermen as bait for their lobster pots. The Tribe’s Natural Resources Department also uses herring as crab bait for a shellfish predator control program.
Offshore commercial herring fisheries are decimating the North Atlantic herring population. Without careful management and strict conservation efforts the herring fishery may soon face a similar fate as the Cod fishery.