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Herring of Massachusetts

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A variety of herring frequent MA coastal and estuarine waters and can be confusing to identify. River herring (alewife and blueback herring) and American shad are generally seen during spring spawning runs. Menhaden and Atlantic herring may appear in our estuaries during coastal migration in the summer or early fall.


  • No teeth on roof of mouth
  • Eye diameter greater than snout length
  • Dorsal fin forward of midlength
  • Deep body

Blueback herring

  • Eye diameter less than snout length
  • No teeth on roof of mouth
  • Dorsal fin forward of midlength

Atlantic herring

  • Teeth on roof of mouth
  • Dorsal fin at midlength
  • Narrow body

American shad

  • Large mouth
  • Upper jaw close to rear edge of eye
  • May have a line of spots
  • Largest in the herring family

Atlantic menhaden

  • Series of random, smaller dark spots
  • Scaleless head = 1⁄3 of body length

Note: The harvest and possession of river herring (Alewife and Bluebacks) is prohibited in Massachusetts.

Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

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