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Monitoring crucial to herring Amd. 5

August 26, 2011

Commercial Fisheries News
September 2011
Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

In late 2007, the New England Fishery Management Council decided to start a new amendment to address monitoring in the herring fishery. This move was precipitated by widespread concern throughout the region over the use of so-called midwater trawl gear and the impacts it was having. Work on this amendment, then known as Amendment 4, began in earnest in mid-2008 and has continued ever since.

The process could finally be coming to a head. After working hard to complete the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) this summer for what is now known as Amendment 5, the council staff is hoping to bring forward a document that the council can use to choose alternatives during its Sept. 27-29 meeting in Danvers, MA. Barring any setbacks, this will be the very first step in the final stage of the development and implementation of this important amendment.

Despite what some herring interests would have the public believe, the efforts to better manage midwater trawling are not the result of some environmental group initiative. You would be hard pressed to find a fisherman in the Northeast who does not have concerns about this gear type, and almost all worry about bycatch and dumping by those boats.

Given the size of the nets and how they are fished – often by pair trawlers and often near the bottom – there is potential for bycatch. And because of how the fish are pumped aboard, there is potential for the dumping of unwanted catch before it is brought on board, whether it is because the tow is full of unmarketable herring or because it is mixed with bycatch.

While Amendment 5 has now grown to incorporate a number of goals, monitoring is still the heart of the document. Among the numerous measures in the amendment today are tools to address both bycatch and dumping. I know I am speaking for most fishermen from these parts when I urge the council to ensure that when it makes its decisions, these two problems are finally fixed. The best way to do this would be to require 100% observer coverage and to include measures that put an end to the dumping of catch before it is sampled. Observer coverage levels have not been high enough to ensure that we truly know the real effect of this gear.

Most fishermen question the need for 150’ pair trawlers towing small-mesh nets at high speeds on a fish that is the food source for all of our other traditional fisheries in the region and the primary source of lobster bait. All we are asking for is that these large boats be held to a higher standard than they have been held to thus far. It is totally unacceptable to have these boats fishing in the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank without ensuring that they are being held accountable for what they are catching.

Again, I urge the council to choose alternatives that will fix the dual problems of bycatch and dumping when making decisions next month on Amendment 5. After allowing this gear in, they owe it to the rest of the industry to make sure it is being managed correctly. And make no mistake about it: These concerns arose from within the fishing industry, not somewhere else.

Steve Weiner
Perkins Cove, ME

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