On Monday, March 19 I attended the New England Marine Fisheries Management Council hearing on Amendment 5 in Fairhaven. I hitched a ride with the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association. About 100-120 people attended.
Two members of the Atlantic herring fleet spoke and maintained that they had a "clean" fishery and that they were providing a valuable service and also feeding the starving people in Nigeria and New Bedford.
All of the other speakers were in remarkable agreement on 5 issues:
1. 100% observer coverage; some argued for 3-4 observers per vessel
2. No dumping at sea; all catch must be accounted for
3. All catch must be weighed.
4. No midwater trawling in areas closed to groundfishing
5. River herring must be protected (but no one specified how that should be done)
Only one person spoke directly to the issue of river herring bycatch .
For folks planning on attending the Plymouth hearing on Tuesday, March 27, I suggest you bring a short script with specific recommendations and read it at the hearing, then submit your script to the recorder. Most people did this. I was pleased to see that Sarah Peake (MA State Representative, 4th Barnstable District) sent a staffer to read comments. A representative from the Nantucket Board of Selectmen also attended.
Consider carpooling with other herring count volunteers if you are traveling to Plymouth.
-Barbara Brennessel, Wellfleet Herring Count Volunteer
After years of wondering and worrying about river herring being caught as bycatch in the Atlantic herring fishery, we finally have the opportunity to DO something about it. Due in large part to the efforts of watershed associations, recreational fishermen, herring wardens, environmental organizations, and river herring enthusiasts, the New England Marine Fisheries Management Council has put river herring on the agenda.
The Council is responsible for writing Fishery Management Plans for all fisheries within the federal Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which are the waters from 3 to 200 miles from shore. The original plan for the Atlantic Herring Fishery was written in 1999, and the Council is now working on Amendment 5 to the Plan. Amendment 5 contains several different management options for collecting data on the quantity of river herring are caught in federal waters, and for minimizing that catch. The Council plans to vote on the final measures in June of 2012.
The Council is looking for comments on which options to choose, and that is where you can help.
The public hearing document that explains the proposed management measures can be found here.
The hearings in Massachusetts are being held on the following dates
- Gloucester, Wednesday, March 14
- Fairhaven, Monday, March 19
- Plymouth, Tuesday, March 27
The full list of hearings with locations, dates and times can be found here.
Mr. Paul Howard
New England Fishery Management Council
50 Water Street
Newburyport, MA 01950
Stay tuned to the River Herring Network blog and the Forum for discussion on what management measures will be most likely to protect river herring.
-Abby Franklin, March 13. 2012
I've got some good news to share with you all. The Massachusetts Bays Program has granted the River Herring Network another small grant for 2012 to continue building the website as a resource, providing technical workshops for wardens and stakeholders, and to refine the best management practices with you all!
In other news, the New England Fishery Management Council will be making a decision this spring on including river herring bycatch measures in the sea herring fishery management plan. Please check out the Latest News section and the Forum for more information on hearings, public comment periods, and background information on these changes that could help river herring.
Does anyone think that the weird winter weather will impact when the herring will return to the runs this year??
Throughout Massachusetts nearly every coastal town has at least one river or stream that is, or has been a river herring run. Alewife and blueback herring (River Herring) have always been an important food source for humans on the Atlantic coast but this once abundant fish stock is now in severe decline coast wide. One indicator of this decline is that the Mid-Atlantic coast fishery peaked in the late 1950s at nearly 34,000 mt before declining to less than 4000 mt in the late 1970s. During the last decade (1996-2005), annual landings have varied between 300 and 900 mt (NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service Northeast Fisheries Science Center Dec, 2006). In 2006, Massachusetts implemented a moratorium on possessing river herring in order to protect the population.
Many factors such as overfishing and the catch of river herring as by-catch in other fisheries have led to the decline of river herring, but the easiest factor to see and fix is habitat degradation in their spawning grounds. Since the 1700s the water ways the herring migrate through have become impaired with natural and man made obstructions. A successful migration may lead them through streams and into ponds and lakes that have poor water quality which decreases the annual yield of the young of the year.
In many areas around Massachusetts there are maintenance and habitat restoration projects that are taking place to help give these fish a fighting chance at recovery. These projects can be as small as clearing the debris from a clogged stream or as large as excavating an entire road to install a new culvert for better passage. Regardless of the project, it is most likely led by a River Herring Warden, Herring committees, watershed organizations, volunteers, and private groups. These people put countless hours into caring for runs, and many are experts in their respective fields and environments. The work done does not just benefit river herring populations - it supports the protection of coastal habitats. Wardens and their helpers have worked to create local regulations and have developed water quality monitoring programs to protect the rivers and spawning grounds.
The information learned over their numerous collective years of experience is often not shared with each other. Most professions have a professional society of some sort to turn to for opportunities for learning and collaboration. River herring wardens have had no such network.. This situation not only puts new river herring wardens at a huge disadvantage since they basically learn everything from scratch, but also prevents innovative ideas from being passed along, built upon, and applied to other runs. River herring populations can benefit from herring wardens just simply talking together.
We now have the opportunity to form a network and learn from each other, learn from mistakes and successes on other runs, increase our long term ability to address river herring resource management issues, and work together to achieve the recovery of the river herring runs in Massachusetts and New England.
The goals of this, “River Herring Network” are to support herring wardens in their role as active participants in fisheries management processes, encourage communication among wardens and those that work with them, document and communicate the natural and cultural history of the herring runs in Massachusetts. Our goal for this website is to provide a place to ask questions of each other,discuss experiences and knowledge, develop collaborative projects, and to create an online forum for wardens and advocates to talk about what they are seeing, and what work has to be done, .
I can't begin to tell you how happy I am to have written this and to ask for your input for both this Network and to work together to aid in the recovery of such an important species in both our local and Atlantic coast food webs.
Jeff Hughes, Wellfleet Herring Warden.