The Pew Environment Group today praised the New England Fishery Management Council for playing it safe with the future of Atlantic herring. The council made three important decisions at its meeting in Newport, Rhode Island regarding the management of the region's herring fishery.
First, the council decided to generate a broad catch and bycatch monitoring program in 2010 that will provide accurate data for determining the health of herring. To date, inadequate catch monitoring of the fleet has made it difficult to accurately predict population sizes and the rates at which herring are being fished.
“We recognize the importance of the council's decision to create a comprehensive catch and bycatch monitoring program,” says Peter Baker, Atlantic Herring campaign manager for the Pew Environment Group, and director of the Herring Alliance. “Currently, there is great uncertainty about how much sea herring are killed by industrial herring trawlers each year. A robust monitoring program will create a future where managers can set catch levels based on what they know, instead of what they do not know.”
Second, the council committed to protect spawning herring on Nantucket Shoals by adding this item into its upcoming work on the herring fishery management plan.
“The council's commitment to include spawning herring on Nantucket Shoals in its future work to protect herring is a step forward,” said Baker. “Done correctly, this will give herring populations a chance to reproduce and replenish their ranks, so they can thrive in the future.”
Finally, perhaps the most important decision the council made was to recommend that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) follow the advice of the council's Science and Statistical Committee in reducing allowable catch levels for the years 2010 through 2012. The final decision on 2010-12 catch levels will be made by NMFS, using the best available science, over the next few months.
“The herring industry lawyers and lobbyists pushed the council to ignore the scientific recommendations, but the council stood strong,” said Baker. “Using science-based management is the correct course of action. While these cuts will provide a short-term economic challenge, they will allow the best chance of maintaining healthy herring populations for the short-, medium-, and long-term. The council and fisheries service must not take risks when the health of herring stocks is at stake.”
Herring are a vital part of the ocean's food web, providing forage for many commercially and recreationally important fish species such as cod, striped bass, haddock and bluefin tuna, as well as for sea birds and marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals.