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  • Writer's pictureBen Martens

Herring Fishery Management Plan

Amendment 8 to the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan Public Hearing Tuesday 6/12/2018 in Portland, ME

Public Comment due Monday, June 25, 2018. Written comments can be Emailed to with the subject "Herring DEIS"

A herring boat tied up in Portland

Amendment 8 to the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan is hosting a Public Hearing next Tuesday 6/12 in Portland.

Atlantic herring plays a key role in the marine ecosystem as food for largerfish, whales, and seabirds. It is also a very important product in the marine economy as bait for other commercial fisheries, such as lobster. For both of these reasons, proper management of Atlantic herring is critically important to the success of many other fisheries in New England, from groundfish to tuna to lobster, and for the marine economy as a whole.

Fishery managers from each of the New England states have spent three years developing options for Amendment 8 to the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan. They are bringing these options (called “alternatives”) to the public for comments before taking final action on the Amendment in September. There are two main objectives for this amendment: first, to set catch limits for herring which account for the species’ role in the ecosystem. And second, to establish a new “buffer zone” off the coast of Cape Cod where midwater trawl vessels would not be allowed to operate, and possibly to determine other areas where midwater trawl vessels will not be permitted to operate. The NEFMC is seeking comments from the public on the alternatives for Amendment 8.

The public comment period is now open and will remain open through June 25. There are a number of scheduled hearings (LINK) where members of the public can offer comments, including one in Portland on 6/12 from 4-6 PM.

Setting Harvesting Limits Through an “ABC Control Rule” There is growing evidence that the herring stock is struggling to maintain a healthy population level. Managers must put new rules in place to avoid allowing the herring population to collapse. The Council is currently choosing from a list of “Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) Control Rules” to govern the harvest of Atlantic herring, which range from most to least permissive in terms of how much herring can be taken out of the ocean and when fishing must stop. Since herring is such a fundamental building block of the marine ecosystem, we believe that it must be managedconservatively in order to mitigate the risk of a stock collapse.

Of the options for an Atlantic herring ABC control rule (Section 2.1 of DEIS) MCFA supports Alternative 2, which would prioritize the needs of predators to have access to herring forage by limiting fishing mortality to 50% F msy . This alternative will create the best outcomes for both the ecosystem and the herring resource. The current method of setting catch limits for herring is too risky because it is largely based on how much was caught in prior years. We believe that herring catch limits should be set in a way that accounts for the important role played by this forage fish in the diets of predators, especially tuna and groundfish. We must also require that the best available science be used to manage herring, as with all fish stocks. We advocate for a forage-focused control rule because it will allow for a more stable population of herring in the long-term, which will benefit the ecosystem, the herring fishery, and commercial fisheries for predator species.

Addressing Localized Depletion and User Conflicts through a “Buffer Zone” The coastal buffer zone in the Gulf of Maine which prohibits the operation of midwater trawl vessels has been successful in protecting marine resources. We believe that this proven model should be extended to Cape Cod. As such, MCFA supports the creation of a year-round midwater trawl-free buffer zone off of Cape Cod that extends 12 nautical miles offshore and includes parts of Areas 1B, 2 and 3. Alternatives 4 and 7 in Section 2.2 accomplish this goal. Other gear that catches herring, like purse seines and small-mesh bottom trawl, would still be permitted to operate in the buffer zone. Only midwater trawl gear would be prohibited. The primary purpose of this buffer zone is to reduce the localized depletion of herring in sensitive inshore habitats, which has negative downstream effects for the ecosystem.

MCFA also supports Alternative 3 in Section 2.2, which would extend the ban on midwater trawl vessels in Area 1A (inshore Gulf of Maine) from summer only to year-round. The midwater trawl gear type is inappropriate for use in the inshore environment, which is home to many sensitive fish stocks such as cod and halibut. Protecting inshore herring populations also preserves the forage base in the inshore area, which in turn provides support for struggling inshore groundfish stocks to recover. Historically, the inshore groundfish fishery was a foundation of Maine’s marine economy, and protecting inshore forage would be a step in the right direction towards rebuilding that fishery.

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