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Big problems surround regulations for preserving a little fish

November 16, 2009

Maine Voices
By Gerry Cushman
Portland Press Herald

PORT CLYDE There is a looming bait crisis for Maine’s lobstermen and small fishing communities.

Some report that this crisis will have grave consequences for one-third of those who earn their livelihood catching one of the state’s most valuable resources.

The ripple effects of this could touch all of us.

Seventy percent of the bait Maine lobstermen use is herring. Recent recommendations from independent fisheries scientists suggest that the herring catch must be dramatically reduced, especially from inshore areas that are so vital to supplying the lobster bait market.

Most of this reduction is due to an uncertainty that scientists have identified that suggests the health of herring populations could be worse than they thought, and that catch levels may be far different than reported.

The scientists are saying that there is a “black hole” in their models that causes the models to continuously predict that there are more herring in the ocean than the data show. They also say more herring are dying than their models predict.

I am a fifth-generation fisherman from Maine and have been fishing for groundfish and lobsters for over 20 years. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the lobster fishery grew and thrived with herring bait supplied by local herring fishermen using gear like purse seines and weirs.

In the late 1990s, industrial-scale midwater trawlers started to move into our traditional waters with boats up 150 feet long that often “pair trawl” with enormous nets pulled between two boats.

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