New England Fisheries

Comment Opportunity: Help Improve Management for Atlantic Herring

Atlantic herring are an important food source for whales and other marine life in New England. Image via NOAA.

What do Atlantic puffins, humpback whales, and bluefin tuna have in common? They all eat Atlantic herring. Atlantic herring are an important forage fish in New England, serving as a food source for many larger fish, whales, and seabirds. Whale and bird watchers, recreational anglers, and commercial fishermen also rely on an abundance of Atlantic herring to help sustain the healthy ocean ecosystem that their businesses depend on.

Fishery managers currently manage Atlantic herring with a single-species approach, meaning that they miss these important relationships – but there’s an opportunity for change. The New England Fishery Management Council is currently developing an amendment to the Atlantic herring fishery management plan that would revise how the species is managed.

This action, known as Amendment 8, has two main components:

  1. Set catch limits for herring that account for its role in the ecosystem
  2. Establish a buffer zone where the largest industrial vessels that catch herring would not be allowed to operate

Setting Catch Limits for Atlantic herring

It’s time for fishery managers to move beyond single-species management and set catch limits for Atlantic herring that account for its role as an important forage fish. Not only does it simply make sense to be careful about how many forage fish like herring we remove from the ecosystem, but the current management is just not working. There is growing evidence that we are overfishing and that the herring population is not at a healthy level.

By removing too much herring from the ecosystem, the predators that rely on them are losing a food source. If we continue in our current way, we are jeopardizing the long-term sustainability of both the fishery and the ecosystem.

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

Of the alternatives under consideration in Amendment 8, the Council should select Alternative 2 – a forage-based control rule that will benefit the fishery, the ecosystem, and ocean users that depend on a healthy abundance of Atlantic herring.

A Buffer Zone to Prevent Localized Depletion

Atlantic herring are often targeted in nearshore waters by midwater trawlers that can be more than 150 feet in length and tow hundreds of feet of net. In one scoop, these vessels are able to catch hundreds of thousands of pounds of herring. This intense fishing can lead to localized depletion of herring, in other words, a loss of abundance of fish in a specific area.

As a result, the predators in the area like tuna, striped bass, whales and seabirds are left without a food source. And the businesses that depend on those predators also suffer.

In response, the Council, through Amendment 8, is considering establishing a buffer zone to prevent localized depletion. The Council should select a year-round buffer zone that extends 50 miles offshore (including Herring Management Areas 1B, 2, and 3), in which midwater trawl gear would be prohibited.

A 50-mile buffer is the only way to address the wide spread impact of localized depletion on predators and provide cover for important habitat areas. Midwater trawlers will still be allowed to fish further offshore in waters where they already frequent.

Take Action Now

The New England Fishery Management Council is collecting public comment on Amendment 8 through June 25, 2018 at 5pm. You can help improve management of Atlantic herring by submitting comments via email or attending one of the public hearings taking place throughout the region. Instructions and more information can be found here.


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