Fishery council split on sea herring's future
By Doreen Leggett
Erica Fuller of Earthjustice didn’t want a decision on herring management kicked back to committee. In Gloucester last week, Fuller faced the 18 New England Fishery Management Council members and said that for six years the council had made a political decision. Now it was time to make one for the resource --- and for the next generation of fishermen.
“Delay is a pretense that mortgages the long-term future,” the attorney for the conservation advocacy group said.
Fuller, who has spent countless hours before the council, wanted a decision that affirmed how important herring is to the ecosystem.
In the end, she didn’t get exactly what she wanted, though she didn’t lose either. The council did not send Amendment 8 of the Atlantic herring fishery management plan back for further study.
Council member John Pappalardo, CEO of The Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, asked his fellow members to keep all alternatives on the table for public comment. The council was supposed to recommend one of nine on the docket, but seeing that wasn’t going happen he tried to salvage the situation.
Pappalardo was concerned that holding up public comment would set the council back. If that happened, discussions on localized depletion (when one smaller area might need protection even though the fishing stock as a whole is strong) would be moved from December to next year.
For many on the Cape that would be disheartening, and bad for the economy. The Alliance has been advocating for the local small-boat fishery for decades; the fleet has been hard hit by the disappearance of herring, taken by massive mid-water trawls. With the herring gone, fishermen are not finding the species they depend on, such as cod and haddock and tuna. Neither the Alliance, nor the fishermen they represent, are trying to stop mid-water trawls everywhere; they just want the large vessels to fish farther offshore so the inshore fleet can continue to succeed as well.
“This problem stretches back over a decade,” says Pappalardo. “Any further delay is too long.”
The so-called “control rule” that the council was discussing at the Beauport Hotel on Gloucester’s waterfront is part of the council’s larger plan. The amendment is two-fold: One, propose a control rule that “explicitly” accounts for herring’s role in the ecosystem. Two, put forward measures to address localized depletion, which would include buffer zones close to shore.
A vote to recommend control rule number four, which was described as a good deal for the environment and fishermen, was close, but in the end failed.
“I think this falls neatly in the middle,” Pappalardo argued, willing to accept a compromise.
David Pierce, director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, had brought the idea forward as the preferred option.
He said option four struck a balance with the lobster industry’s “insatiable demand” for herring as bait and the need for herring as forage for numerous predators such as tuna, cod and even common terns.
“(This) is the one I can defend,” he said.
Pierce garnered a lot of support, but not enough.
Some council members were swayed by the comments of Mary Beth Tooley of the O’Hara Corporation in Maine, which operates large boats in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. She argued that people didn’t understand the documents, which were extensive. She suggested the council stay with the status quo; if option 4 was pursued, Tooley said, the quota for fishermen would be reduced by 7,000 metric tons. That reduction in herring catch would be a crisis, she said, adding that the lack of availability of bait has already caused the price to double.
Libby Etrie, manager for the Northeast Fishery’s sector 1, agreed. She said she was just beginning to understand the document and that changes and clarifications had recently been made. This was the first time the council had tried to formulate a rule encompassing the entire ecosystem. There was a lot of information, reams of paperwork, lots of studies and when the process began there were dozens of options.
But, said Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office Regional Administrator John Bullard, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t vote.
“We do understand it,” said Bullard. “We asked for it.”
Others pointed out that the interim rule being used now was never intended to be a long-term strategy to set limits on how many herring can be caught.
They preferred option two, which scientists said had the smallest chance of the herring stock being overfished. It also provided the rosiest picture for predators, such as tuna and terns, and protected marine mammals.
Now, as usual, the public will weigh in on all the options, but without the benefit of knowing which the council prefers. Comments can be directed to:Thomas Nies, Executive Director New England Fishery Management Council, 50 Water Street, Mill 2, Newburyport, Ma. 01950