New England Fisheries

A Forward-Thinking Vote for Atlantic Herring and the Ocean Ecosystem

Atlantic herring are a food source for puffin chicks. Image via DOI.

Atlantic herring are swimming victory laps today. Just yesterday, the New England Fishery Management Council passed Amendment 8 to the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan, a landmark decision that should be commended.

Atlantic herring is one of the most important fish in New England and the broader Northwest Atlantic Ocean. As vital prey for larger predatory fish such as Atlantic cod, bluefin tuna, and striped bass, as well as several species of whales and seabirds, Atlantic herring play a critical role in the ocean ecosystem. Now, the new rules passed in Amendment 8 will recognize that role.

There are two key aspects to Amendment 8 that, once implemented, will lead to meaningful change in the Atlantic herring fishery:

  1. Forage-based control rule. Fishery managers set catch limits in the Atlantic herring fishery by using control rules, essentially a formula based on scientific estimates of how many herring are in the population. The Council passed a more conservative control rule compared to the status quo that will keep an estimated additional 31 million pounds of herring in the water over the next 3 years. This will help the declining population rebuild and provide more essential forage for predators.
  2. 12-mile buffer zone. The Council passed a 12-mile, year-round buffer zone for mid-water trawl vessels in all New England waters that extends south to Long Island. Additionally, the Council approved two larger squares off the backside of Cape Cod, which extend nearly 20 miles from shore. The buffer will protect more than 12,000 square miles of ocean from midwater trawling, saving coastal herring populations from intensive fishing pressure and helping to prevent localized depletion of this important resource.

These management measures – based on sound science and strong public support – are a reflective of years of hard work on behalf of the Council, fishermen, scientists, and stakeholders. In a press statement following the vote, Senior Attorney for Conservation Law Foundation Erica Fuller said, “These new rules will make a long-lasting difference for herring, its predators, and the businesses and communities that depend upon a healthy fishery and a healthy ocean.”

The Amendment now goes to NOAA Fisheries for final approval. At that time, there will be one more opportunity for public comment to emphasize the importance of this action for fish, fishing communities, and the ocean ecosystem.


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