Oceana declared a victory for the oceans today when the New England Fisheries Management Council voted to change the herring fishery management plan to include bycatch control and habitat protection from herring fishing gear. This decision is the culmination of an ocean-protection effort led by Oceana in collaboration with recreational fishing, commercial fishing and wildlife watching organizations along with hundreds of concerned citizens.
The council approved a measure that sets meaningful hard caps on the bycatch of haddock in the herring fishery. Each year, the herring fishery will not be allowed to catch more than 0.2 percent of the overall allowable catch of haddock targeted by the <place w:st="on">New England</place> groundfish fleet. To enforce the hard caps, the council voted that when the herring fishing fleet reached 90 percent of the hard cap on haddock bycatch, then 90 percent of the herring fishing in the haddock fishery will close.
In addition, the Council also took action to protect ocean habitat from herring trawls. When the plan takes effect in 2006, herring captains will be prohibited from adding reinforcements to the bottom of their nets, so the gear can’t be dragged on the seafloor.
“We are pleased with the council’s decision to adopt significant ocean conservation measures for the herring fishery, an important source of food to whales, seabirds, bluefin tuna, cod and other marine life in New England,” said Gib Brogan, campaign projects manager with Oceana. “This is a good example of the council responding to dramatic changes in the fishing methods of the herring fishery and the needs of other ocean users.”
The management decisions made today in the council follow an emergency rulemaking adopted in June 2005 by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the council to count and cap the number of haddock and other groundfish caught in herring trawls. Oceana has participated in the development of ocean conservation measures to amend the herring fishery management plan since the first meetings began in Spring 2003.
“The bycatch record shows what fishing gear experts and herring captains know--the nets, which are assumed to be midwater trawls, are really fishing on the bottom,” said Brogan. “Preventing the herring fishermen from jerry-rigging their nets to drag the bottom anywhere they want will expand the protection that New England’s fisheries managers have developed to protect hundreds of square miles of sensitive and important seafloor habitats.”
The council also committed to developing bycatch reporting systems for its major fisheries, including groundfish, scallops and herring by November 2006. This process will allow proper development of this crucial component of any effective fishery management plan.