New England Fisheries

New England Council Makes a Move on Herring

We’ve lately been reporting on the progress of the New England Fishery Management Council to protect river herring and make other important changes in the Atlantic herring fishery. This process took a step forward last week when the Council voted to send the new rules out to public comment. (See a statement from Pew Environment Group.)

For several years, the Council has been grappling with how to manage the industrial vessels that fish for this important little fish in the federal waters off New England. Most of this fishery is landed by large midwater trawlers that tow huge nets between two 150-foot boats. They have been allowed to fish in areas closed to promote groundfish recovery (and closed to other fishermen) because the trawlers supposedly stayed in the “midwater” and caught very few of these bottom-dwelling species. In reality, the trawlers routinely catch significant amounts of haddock and other groundfish. In addition, the trawlers catch hundreds of thousands of pounds of river herring, a “species of concern,” each year. Soon the public will have a chance to comment on the proposed rules that will fix some of the problems with the fishery.

With the help of Herring Alliance partners including CLF, Earthjustice and Pew Environment Group, thousands of people sent letters to the Council in advance of last Thursday’s meeting. Over 7,000 letters urged Council members to advance the protection of river herring and ensure strong bycatch avoidance and monitoring measures. All these proposed changes are moving forward and in January the Council will hold hearings to get public input on specific measures. Strong support at these hearings by concerned citizens will hopefully result in new rules to require industrial trawlers to carry federal observers onboard and minimize accidental catch of groundfish, river herring, marine mammals and birds. After last Thursday’s decision, we are hopeful that the Council is close to taking a big step forward for protecting our New England ocean ecosystem.


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