Ready to hear about herring?

Mid water trawlers working off the coast of Rhode Island in Narragansett Bay in January 2012.

For the next few weeks, fishery managers will hear from the public on proposed changes to the Atlantic herring fishery. New rules (called Amendment 5) have been in development for a long time – five years – and this marks the culmination of a lot of work by the New England Fishery Management Council, and a lot of debate.

Commercial and recreational fishermen as well as conservation groups (like those represented in the Herring Alliance) have been calling for more oversight of the industrial Atlantic herring fleet. These large trawlers work in pairs to tow huge nets, and they are the biggest vessels on the East Coast. New regulations will attempt to address many issues with the fishery.

Here is a brief overview of some of the main concerns, and the solutions available in Amendment 5.

Monitoring: There is inadequate monitoring of this fleet, given the volume of fish they harvest and size of the boats. Requiring on-board observers on 100% of trips, for the largest vessels, would put this fleet on par with monitoring requirements of other similar fisheries in the U.S.

River herring: The decline of river herring, an important fish for coastal ecosystems, is alarming. This industrial trawl fleet caught an average of 2.8 million river herring (as bycatch) per year between 2005 and 2010. A cap on allowed river herring catch would create incentives for the fleet to avoid catching river herring.

Groundfish closed areas: These important closures were established to protect key habitat for cod, haddock and other groundfish. The groundfish fleet has not been allowed into these areas for years, in order to promote recovery of these important species. But large herring trawlers, which supposedly fish in the “midwater” and not the bottom, are allowed to fish there and do catch groundfish. Many fishermen are ready to see these trawlers banned from the closed areas.

Dumping catch at sea: Loopholes in current regulations allow midwater trawlers to dump the contents of their nets before they are brought onboard. Thousands of pounds of dead marine life can be “slipped” from a net without ever being sampled. Proposed changes include creating disincentives for dumping, such as capping the number of “slippage” events allowed (with exceptions for safety).

Weighing and reporting: Other requirements that will improve accountability in this fishery include weighing and reporting of all catch that is brought to shore.

If you would like to attend a public hearing, check the schedule below, and get in touch with Herring Alliance at

Wednesday, March 14, 7-9 p.m., Gloucester, MA
MA Division of Marine Fisheries, Annisquam River Station, 30 Emerson Ave.

Thursday, March 15, 7-9 p.m., Portsmouth, NH
Sheraton Harborside Hotel, 250 Market St.

Monday, March 19, 7-9 p.m., Fairhaven, MA
Seaport Inn, 110 Middle St.

Wednesday, March 21, 7-9 p.m., Portland, ME
Holiday Inn by the Bay, 88 Spring St.

Tuesday, March 27, 7-9 p.m., Plymouth, MA
Radisson Hotel Plymouth Harbor, 180 Water St.

Wednesday, March 28, 7-9 p.m., Warwick, RI
Hilton Garden Inn, One Thurber St.

Thursday, March 29, 7-9 p.m., Cape May, NJ
Congress Hall Hotel, 251 Beach Ave.


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