Thousands Comment on Herring Observer Program
by Laurie Schreiber
To date, the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) has received almost 41,000 email comments, on top of written letters, on proposed management measures for the herring fishery.
NEFMC held eight hearings, from Rockland to Cape May, N.J., to receive comment on Amendment 5 to the Herring Fishery Management Plan.
NEFMC reviewed the comments at its April 24-26 meeting. It is expected that the NEFMC will select final management measures at its June 19-21 meeting in Portland.
The comment period runs until June 4.
Two major proposals center on the establishment of a comprehensive monitoring program; and addressing bycatch, with focus on river herring bycatch, said NEFMC fishery plan analyst Lori Steele.
Steele said that most non-industry stakeholders – this would include tuna and recreational fishermen, environmentalists, and river herring interests – support 100 percent observer coverage on category A and B vessels – the 45 or so limited access directed vessels that catch about 97 percent of the fish. There has been little to no support for this level of observer coverage on category C and D vessels, she said.
The majority of stakeholders support implementation of measures to address net slippage, she said. Many support Closed Area I sampling provisions and a trip termination provision at either 10 or five events, she said.
Steele said there is general support for the idea that dealers would weigh all herring, but the proposal does not contain specifics in terms of implementation, she said.
Steeles said there was general support for prohibiting midwater trawlers from fishing in groundfish closed areas.
There have not been many comments about specific river herring management alternatives that are proposed, aside from general support of a “cooperative avoidance process” that the industry and researchers are already working on, she said.
There has been some support for establishing a river herring catch cap, she said.
The herring industry itself also generally supports 100 percent observer coverage, as long as cost is addressed and it can be affordable for industry, Steele said. “Industry said they have no problem with 100 percent, but they can’t afford it at the rates currently assumed for this region,” she said.
The industry expressed willingness to pay for coverage at rates comparable to West Coast rates; the figure mentioned was $325 per day, she said.
The industry made some additional suggestions, she said. Among them, she said, some industry members said there should be a more thorough review of existing observer data to identify problems such as bycatch or specific vessels encountering bycatch on regular basis.
Amendment 5 has been a long time in the making, one NEFMC member said.
The issues underlying warrant close study, said NEFMC member David Pierce.
Pierce said that, at the hearings, it became apparent that there is a lack of understanding as to some of the data that is in the plan, especially in the various appendices.
“I encourage all council members to look at the information…so you’ll be better able to separate out what we know from some passions that have been expressed rather strongly regarding the nature of the fishery,” Pierce said.
NEFMC member David Goethel said it’s incumbent on the plan development team to formulate recommendations “fully fleshed out” regarding the “nuts and bolts” of the amendment. For example, he said, what will be the duties of observers?
“None of this is spelled out in the amendment,” Goethel said. “It’s a lot of passion, but not a lot of substance.”
According to NEFMC information, the need to develop Amendment 5 arose shortly after the development of Amendment 1, which included a limited access program for the herring fishery and established a seasonal purse seine/fixed gear area in the inshore Gulf of Maine, along with implementing other measures to address the long-term management of the fishery.
“Since the implementation of Amendments 1, 2, and 4, concerns about the fishery have led the council to determine that additional action is warranted to further address issues related to the long-term health of the herring resource, how the resource is harvested, how catch/bycatch in the fishery are accounted for, and the important role of herring as a forage fish in the Northeast region,” according to NEFMC. “These concerns are reflected in the unprecedented level of interest in managing this fishery by New England’s commercial and recreational fishermen, eco-tourism and shoreside businesses, and the general public. The primary purpose of this amendment, therefore, is to improve catch monitoring and ensure compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA)….Additionally, a purpose of this amendment is to specifically address river herring bycatch.”
Under consideration are:
• Measures to address/prioritize the allocation of NMFS-approved observers for at-sea sampling on limited access herring vessels;
• Provisions to enhance NMFS-approved observers’ ability to maximize sampling at-sea;
• Measures to address/minimize net slippage by limited access herring vessels;
• Monitoring, avoidance, and protection alternatives to address river herring bycatch; and
• Criteria for midwater trawl vessel access to the year-round groundfish closed areas.
The herring fishery is divided into four categories.
A Category A limited-access permit has no possession limit and may fish in all herring management areas.
A Category B limited-access permit has no possession limit and may fish in Areas 2 and 3.
Category C limited-access is for the incidental catch of herring, and has a possession limit of 55,000 pounds per day.
Category D is an open access permit and has a 3-metric-ton possession limit.
According to NEFMC information, the NEFMC intends for the major elements of the proposed catch monitoring program to apply to the limited access herring fishery – the 100 or so Category A/B/C vessels that catch more than 99 percent of Atlantic herring in a given year.
Because Category A/B boats catch the vast majority of herring (about 97-98 percent), the NEFMC may evaluate costs and benefits associated with some of the measures when determining whether or not Category C vessels will be subject to all of the requirements of the catch monitoring program, the NEFMC says.
While Category D vessels are not proposed to be subject to the Amendment 5 catch monitoring program, there are other measures under consideration that could affect these vessels and increase the scope of the impacts of this amendment, the NEFMC says. For example, the NEFMC is considering an option that would require Category D vessels to adhere to the management measures to address river herring bycatch.