top of page
  • Writer's pictureBen Martens

A Herring Update

Herring meeting at the New England Fishery Management Council

On September 25, 2018, the New England Fishery Management Council voted through two important changes to the herring fishery and made a suggestion to NOAA as to how to deal with the herring catch for next year.

The Decisions to be made:

1. Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) Control Rule:

What is it: the is the equation for setting catch in any given year. The council developed this Amendment to make sure that the control rule took forage needs into consideration and stabilized the fishery for optimum yield.

2. Localized Depletion/User Conflict:

Concern was raised that the inshore ecosystem cannot continue to sustain the large midwater trawl fishery and proposals to create a buffer, similar to what exists in the inshore Gulf of Maine, were suggested.

3. Allowed Catch for 2019:

NOAA is currently in the middle of updating the stock assessment for Atlantic Herring and the preliminary results show that a dramatic reduction in the biomass and recruits into the fishery. As a result, for 2018, the council asked NOAA to reduce what was allowed to be caught. The stock assessment wouldn’t be completed in time to impact next year’s allowed catch, so the Council wanted to make recommendations to NOAA to similarly reduce the catch next year while waiting for the assessment to be completed.

The Outcomes:

1. Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) Control Rule:

The council chose option B (modified) in the document. What this means that 20% of the allowed catch is set aside for ecosystem, forage and biomass stability. Essentially, this means that more fish are left in the ocean than are legally allowed to be caught. There is also a cutoff that would mean once the fishery hit a certain biomass that no commercial fishing would be allowed.

This happens with many important forage stocks and was something that herring needed to adopt. This is the least restrictive of the options and garnered unanimous support from the Council.

2. Localized Depletion/User Conflict:

A 12 nautical mile buffer was established throughout the coast of New England that excludes midwater trawl for fishing within this area. In the Gulf of Maine, we already had a seasonal closure, and this is being placed on top of what already existed and is year round. Additionally, a larger area was carved out for exclusion south of Cape Cod to protect important spawning grounds.

This motion passed 14/1/1

3. Allowed Catch for 2019:

The previous stock assessment that was completed in 2016 set an allowable catch for 2018 of 111,000mt of herring. At a previous meeting the Council requested that that number be moved to 55mt which more accurately reflected actual catch and was then the number that could be used in the stock assessment and setting allowable catch for 2019. NOAA is setting the allowable catch for 2019 and the council suggested that they set that number using the best available data from the stock assessment and take the ABC control rule into considerations.

Preliminary Allowed Catch for 2019

*From draft memo to NEFMC on Sept 24th


Some Data:


2008 91,129 mt

2009 107,587 mt

2010 79,413 mt

2011 86,155 mt

2012 87,675 mt

2013 101,622 mt

2014 95,233 mt

2015 81,350 mt

2016 67,574 mt

2017 50,250 mt

Biomass and Recruitement

Year Spawning Stock Biomass Recruitment (Age 1)

2008 207,711 2,712

2009 139,353 10,580

2010 121,661 2,364

2011 185,013 2,110

2012 243,767 6,942

2013 210,106 1,370

2014 330,492 1,608

2015 264,982 776

2016 175,698 175

2017 141,473 392

In the Press

Environmental groups, purse seine herring fishermen and fishermen who make a living off fish that eat herring say that these midwater trawlers have wrecked the fishery, sucking the local waters dry of herring and prompting the fish, birds and mammals that rely on them to leave. Some accuse the trawlers of wrecking herring spawning grounds, contributing to the low juvenile numbers.

But trawlers say the scientists who conducted the stock assessment note that overfishing isn’t what caused the declining numbers, not even of juvenile herring. When pushed, scientists told the council they aren’t quite sure what caused the decline in juveniles, but argue the council can’t wait around to act while further studies are conducted.

In 2017, the Atlantic herring population dropped to 239,000 metric tons, according to the stock assessment finalized Tuesday. Of those, just 3.9 million were juveniles, which is the second lowest number ever recorded. Four of the lowest estimates for juvenile herring have been recorded in the last five years, the assessment shows.

In comparison, about 50 years ago, when the herring population was at its peak, there were more than a billion juvenile Atlantic herring.

That prompted regulators to cut the herring quota in the middle of the 2018 season from 110,000 to about 50,000 metric tons. It sounds like a lot, but that is about what herring fishermen landed last year.

The lobster industry was already worried about what that cut would do to bait availability in the future, but regulators gave them more to worry about on Tuesday when they voted to ask federal regulators to adjust next year’s quota to 14,558 metric tons – a figure that most herring and lobster fishermen in the crowd said would leave almost no herring fishery at all.

bottom of page