The Countdown to Accountability for the Industrial Sea Herring Fleet
Local fishermen and other regional stakeholders are adamant that we need to learn more about all of the fish being caught by industrial fishing vessels off our coast: the sea herring they target (the preferred food of many ocean species), as well as the river herring and juvenile haddock they catch by accident.
The New England Fishery Management Council (the council) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (the fisheries service) are working to put a plan in place to shed much-needed light on what kinds of fish and how much the midwater trawl fleet for sea herring is catching, and to document and report the river herring, juvenile haddock and other species they catch by accident (as bycatch) and have those fish counted against their bycatch quota.
June 2012 – ONE STEP FORWARD
The council votes to establish much-needed accountability measures for the midwater trawl herring fleet, including:
• 100% observer coverage on this high volume fishery, using a combination of government and industry funds
• Accurate weighing of all catch
• Rules against "dumping" unsampled catch at-sea, before we can get important information about the catch contents
• Strict restrictions for vessels fishing in groundfish closed areas: They cannot fish in these areas without an observer and must sample all catch. If catch is "dumped" before sampling, the vessel must leave the area.
• A commitment to developing a river herring and shad catch cap to protect these important fish that are caught as bycatch in this fishery
July 2013 – TWO STEPS BACK
The fisheries service only "partially approves" the council's decision, omitting key measures from the document, including:
• 100% observer coverage, citing a lack of government funds and calling it an "unfunded mandate"
• Accurate weighing of all catch
• Rules against "dumping" unsampled catch at-sea
The fisheries service does approve new stringent new rules for midwater trawl vessels operating in groundfish closed areas.
September 2013 - BIG WIN FOR RIVER HERRING
The council makes good on its promise to increase protections for river herring. It is big news for these river-spawning fish that are caught as bycatch during the at-sea portion of their lives, exacerbating the issue of their depletion.
• A river herring and shad catch cap is created to limit the number of these fish killed in the midwater trawl sea herring fishery each year.
• The catch cap is lower than past levels of bycatch and so will actually constrain the midwater trawl fleet and require them to change their behavior by avoiding areas known to contain river herring during certain times of year.
• Once the cap is reached for an area, the fleet will be prohibited from fishing there.
• The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council is taking similar steps to protect these important fish.
These are positive steps forward in a long process that we are committed to seeing through.
November 2013 – SMALL VICTORY FOR JUVENILE HADDOCK
Citing concerns from commercial fishermen that the midwater trawl fleet is catching juvenile haddock in the disastrously-depleted groundfish industry, council member, and Fishermen's Alliance policy director, Tom Dempsey calls for an Emergency Action banning midwater trawl gear until appropriate accountability measures can be established.
On the day of the decision, the room is full of commercial fishermen on both sides of the argument. The proposal fails by a narrow margin, but the council commits to revisiting the measures disapproved by the fisheries service and getting them on the water ASAP.
As part of this, the council also initiates the Omnibus Observer Coverage Amendment to address observer coverage issues in all fisheries. Progress on this front is slow, and the final outcome is unlikely to be implemented prior to 2016.
January 2014 – BACK TO THE TABLE
The council works to develop new measures to address the accurate catch weight requirement and discourage "dumping" at-sea. These measures will be expanded upon and assessed before being approved and forwarded to the fisheries service for review.
April 2014 – ANOTHER WIN FOR HERRING
The New England Fishery Management Council met in April and approved much-needed accountability measures for the industrial midwater trawl fleet that fishes for Atlantic herring, a keystone species in the Atlantic Ocean’s food chain. The Fishermen’s Alliance is pleased with the council’s perseverance and commitment to improving management of this fleet, despite previous setbacks.
The newly-approved measures call for strict weighing and reporting procedures to better ensure accurate and verified catch weights as well as prohibiting “dumping” of catch. In the event that a vessel must “dump” its catch for safety of mechanical reasons, they will be required to “move along” to a new location. These measures address two of the three primary concerns stakeholders had with regards to the herring fleet.
The third outstanding concern raised by stakeholders was the need to have federal observers placed on each and every trip these vessels make to monitor bycatch, and the council has initiated an Omnibus Observer Coverage Amendment to address observer coverage issues in all of our region’s fisheries.The council will look to NOAA Fisheries Service for an implementation plan in the near future.