Peter Baker, director of the Pew Environment Group's Northeast Fisheries Program and the Herring Alliance, issued the following statement today in response to the New England Fishery Management Council's decision to seek public input on a long-awaited set of proposed regulations that would be included under Amendment 5 to the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan.
“Today's vote invites the public to help guide how we improve the inadequate management of industrial fishing for Atlantic herring. In targeting this species off New England's coast, midwater trawlers often ensnare other fish, marine mammals and seabirds in nets hundreds of feet long, damaging this complex ocean ecosystem.
“We support the proposal that would require a federal observer on every midwater trawler trip to sample the entire catch. Onboard observers would finally allow fishery managers to verify what vessels are hauling in and would put the Atlantic herring fishery on par with others in the industry that use similar-size ships and gear. The release or dumping of unsampled catch by this fleet should not be allowed except under unusual circumstances, such as mechanical failure or when safety is a concern, and use of these exceptions should be carefully controlled.
“We agree with the Council's inclusion of an option that would prohibit directed fishing for Atlantic herring in areas where river herring—a related and severely depleted species—are caught in large numbers. Midwater trawlers should also be excluded from ocean areas with designations that protect rebuilding groundfish populations, because the massive nets scoop up almost everything in their paths.
“People in this region care about and depend upon their stretch of the Atlantic Ocean, one of the richest marine environments in the United States. All herring species play a critical role as a food source in this ecosystem. Our fisheries management should operate on scientific observations and keep enough fish in the water for generations to come.”
The New England Fishery Management Council is in the final stages of developing new monitoring and bycatch rules that would be included under Amendment 5 to the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan. The council will now prepare a draft of the new rules, which will then be released for a 45-day public comment period starting in early December. Public comments will be reviewed, and final management measures will probably be voted on at the Council's Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2012, meeting in Portsmouth, N.H.
Herring are one of the most important prey species in the Atlantic Ocean, feeding whales, dolphins, seals and seabirds, as well as the fish many people love to eat―tuna, haddock, cod and striped bass. Similarly, coastal communities and their ocean-based tourism businesses depend on herring for sport fishing and whale and seabird watching.
River herring video and animation:
River Herring—Recreational fishermen discuss the plight of this species in the northeastern United States.
The Tip of the Iceberg—Troubling loopholes in the herring fishery prevent on-board observers from accurately sampling bycatch, including marine mammals.
Weir Fishing—Contemporary fishermen show how to set up a fishing weir, an ancient type of trap dating to Roman times in what is now Britain and to the Bronze Age in today’s Sweden.
Atlantic Herring—This fish is one of the most important in New England and a critical part of the northwestern Atlantic ecosystem.
Bycatch and Monitoring—Bycatch, the unintended capture of unwanted fish and other animals, is a growing concern in the Atlantic herring fishery.
History of a Fishery—Atlantic herring have been caught off New England for centuries. But the fishery has recently changed, becoming increasingly industrial.
River Herring—Populations of alewives and bluebacks are in serious decline along the Atlantic Coast and face numerous threats.