CHOIR: Coalition for the Atlantic Herring Fishery's Orderly, Informed, and Responsible Long-Term Development


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Herring Fishery's Monitoring Mishap

August 31, 2007


CHOIR and others have long voiced concerns over the lack of effective monitoring in the herring fishery and recent events have reinforced these concerns.

On Wednesday, August 22nd, NMFS posted a letter on the IVR Update webpage from Pat Kurkul, Northeast Regional Administrator, notifying the fishery and the public that the Area 1A fishery would be closing at the end of the week due to the Total Allowable Catch for the season being filled. NMFS also sent an email that day, saying:

“Greetings, this email has been issued to announce the closure of the
directed Atlantic herring Management Area 1A fishery. Effective 0001
hours, August 24, 2007, no vessel may fish for, catch, possess or land
more than 2,000 pounds of Atlantic herring in or from Area 1A per trip
or calendar day. This closure will also be announced through the
attached permit holder letter, the NERO website, Coast Guard and Weather
Service radio announcements, a VMS email alert, and fax. Please contact
the Sustainable Fisheries Division at 978-281-9315 with questions.”

For this to have happened, NMFS would have had to believe that at least 95% of the 50,000 mt quota had already been reached. The fishery is managed by two major sources of landings data: IVR reports, which are weekly landings reports submitted by herring vessel captains via a voicemail service; or, secondly, federal dealer reports, submitted by federally licensed herring buyers/dealers.

CHOIR and many others have long realized that these two sources of reporting were insufficient for proper management.

The announcement from NMFS caught many by surprise. This is mostly because NMFS posts IVR landings on a webpage on the NMFS website, which had shown roughly 20,000 mt of landings as of the third week of August. How could the landings have jumped almost 30,000 mt in a week?

Within a day of the announcement of the 1A closure, NMFS announced that there had been a mistake. The herring fishery was no longer set to close in Area 1A. While many believed this to be linked to inherent inadequacies within the monitoring system, NMFS has yet to clarify the reason for the major mishap that led first to a notice of a closure, then a day later, a re-opening.

A letter from Pat Kurkul, written on August 23rd, a day after the proposed closure, reads:

“Dear Atlantic Herring Permit Holder:

The closure of the directed Atlantic herring fishery in Management Area 1A has been withdrawn, and the fishery will remain open until further notice.

The closure was to take effect at 0001 hrs local time, August 24, 2007. However, further review of the landings data revealed a number of data entry errors in dealer reports that have substantially reduced the landings figures. Updated figures will be posted on the Northeast Region website when the data has been fully reviewed.

If you have any questions, please contact the Sustainable Fisheries Division at (978) 281-9315.

Patricia A. Kurkul
Regional Administrator”

How could there be a 30,000 mt reporting error? This question has yet to be answered, but whatever that answer is, one thing is clear: NMFS clearly does not have the tools or the ability to monitor the herring fishery properly.

This truth was seen only months ago, when the agency allowed the herring fishery to catch over 8,000 mt in May, when the TAC for that month was only 5,000 mt. Another example was last year, when the Area 1B TAC of 10,000 mt was exceeded by almost 3,000 mt, or almost a third of the overall area TAC. There are other examples, too, but there is no need to get into those here.

Time and time again, the weaknesses of the herring monitoring/reporting system are seen and it is time that something is done to ensure that such glaring deficiencies are remedied. It is unacceptable for a fishery such as the herring fishery to be managed with such an inadequate system.

Managers should put in place a Weighmaster system as soon as possible, along with other rule changes that will enable NMFS and the states to properly manage the herring fishery.

To view the letter written by Pat Kurkul, as well as the IVR database, click here and then click on ‘Atlantic Herring’ on the left hand side of the page.

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