Public gets say on changes to herring rules 12-11-17

Public gets say on changes to herring rules

By Doug Fraser
Cape Cod Times

Posted Dec 11, 2017 at 7:50 PM
Updated Dec 12, 2017 at 8:48 AM

Cape Cod's small boat fishermen, both commercial and recreational, have been asking for protection from a fleet of large herring trawlers for more than a decade.

They may get an answer to their plea as early as June, when the New England Fishery Management Council will likely vote on whether to create buffer zones that prohibit fishing close to shore by these large vessels for part or all of the year.

The council's potential actions are focused on midwater trawlers which tow large nets, sometimes between pairs of vessels, targeting huge schools of herring swimming midway between the bottom and surface. Back in 2007, the council prohibited midwater trawlers from fishing during the summer months along the coast north of Provincetown to Canada. But they allowed them to come within three miles of the Cape and states to the south.

Herring are considered a forage species, a vital link between the massive food source contained in the plankton they eat, and the protein needed by important commercial species like striped bass, cod and bluefin tuna that prey on them. But Cape and other East Coast fishermen have argued that the massive nets and large vessels used by the herring fleet are so efficient that cod, tuna and other species, with no herring to eat, do not come close enough to shore for the smaller vessels of the inshore fleet.

"Our guys are not fishing the way they did 12 years ago around the Cape because those fish aren't there because the bait isn't there," said John Pappalardo, executive director of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance and a member of the fishery council. "We live in a migratory corridor here. We depend on the bait to be there."

Cape fishermen want a ban on midwater herring trawlers, either seasonally or year-round, out to as much as 50 miles from shore. At their meeting last week in Newport, Rhode Island, the New England council, a representative body of appointed fishermen, industry representatives, and state and federal fishery managers, decided not to pick a preferred alternative. They instead sent all nine options being considered, including one that maintains the status quo, out to public hearing. Council staff are preparing a public hearing document that will lay out the options and be used for a suite of public hearings along the Atlantic coast, likely to be scheduled for March, Pappalardo said.

Following public hearings and the written comment period, the council's Herring Oversight Committee will then pick a preferred alternative and send it to the full council for a vote, likely in June, Pappalardo said.

"The public is so divided about this amendment that the council decided it was in everyone's best interest to simply send the entire package out to public hearing without selecting a preferred alternative," said council spokeswoman Janice Plante.

In written comments to the Herring Committee on the proposals, Jeff Kaelin, government relations specialist with Lund's Fisheries of New Jersey, said their catch will be dramatically reduced if they are forced to fish elsewhere.

"These boats fish where the herring are, and most catches are within the six and twelve mile buffers being proposed in Area IA, 1B and Area 3, particularly from May through October," Kaelin wrote to the committee.

Expansion of closed areas could put the herring fleet out of business and may see them converting to bottom trawling, he said.

Landings data show that one of the hotspots for herring is right off the Outer Cape.

"It's critical that local fishermen have a forage base for the game and commercial fish that are needed for their livelihood," said Bruce Peters of Eastham, a charter boat captain and commercial striped bass and tuna fisherman. "Small boats can't travel hundreds of miles like the 120-foot midwater trawlers can. They can catch them anywhere. They don't need to catch them just beyond the 3-mile line all winter long."

Peters said he believes the complexity of the nine options would allow the herring fleet too much wiggle room to get what they needed at the expense of local fishermen.

"For 20 years they've (the New England Council) been kicking this can down the road and fishermen are frustrated," he said.

"My preference is that they don't allow it within 25 miles of the Cape year round," said Peter Baker, director of U.S. Oceans, Northeast, for The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Short of that, Baker said he felt it was important to ban trawlers for the spring when river herring were staging off the Cape for their annual migration inland to spawn and in the summer and fall for striped bass and tuna migration.

"It's time for the council to do something real to protect us from industrial trawlers," Baker said.

"My sense is there's room for compromise," Pappalardo said. "The council has plenty of flexibility to build a final solution that takes everybody into account."

— Follow Doug Fraser on Twitter:@dougfrasercct.

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