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  • Writer's pictureBen Martens

Herring update from NEFMC

In response to preliminary data from the most recent stock assessment which suggests that the Atlantic herring stock has experienced a significant decline due to poor recruitment, the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) instructed the Regional Office to cut catch for the current fishing year (FY2018) in an attempt to stave off even more dramatic cuts which loom ahead in FY2019.

Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) commissioner Pat Keliher proposed the following: “that upon approval of the 2018 Atlantic herring Stock Assessment peer review, or sooner if possible, the RA (under existing authority allowing for in-season adjustments) take action to cap the 2018 harvest of Atlantic herring at the 2017 catch levels by management areas 1A, 1B and 3. The Area 2 sub-ACL should be set at 8200mt for the 2018 sub ACL.” The motion passed a show of hands at the council.

Area 2 was singled out because the midwater trawl boats have caught a significant amount of that quota, but that gear has been shut down because of river herring bycatch. Planning to shut down Area 2 when 2017 catch levels are reached (as all the other areas were proposed) would close Area 2 almost immediately. Area 2 is in Southern New England (SNE), and there was significant concern from council members about the small-mesh bottom trawl fishery of RI that targets herring in that area in the fall not getting an opportunity to fish with the midseason adjustment.

This motion is necessary because the stock assessment will make adjustments for the 2019 fishing year and does not address the current year’s catch. In fact, the assessment assumes 100% of 2018 allocation will be caught and landed. Reducing catch in 2018 will hopefully allow for an increase in 2019 allowed catch by leaving more herring in the water this year to reproduce.

Herring Area allowed catch

Herring Area allowed catch

The decline of the most important forage stock in New England is a significant blow, not only for the lobster industry that uses it for bait, but also for those species that rely on herring as forage like groundfish, tuna, whales, and sea birds. Without this motion, rumor has it that the herring fishery would need to be capped at 15mt in 2019, far lower than the 100mt fishery that has operated in recent years. This adjustment may double the allowed catch for next year (from 15 to 30), but it is still too early to tell what fishery will look like.

Regardless, changes are coming to the herring fishery and those that rely on herring for bait or food.

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