Sunday, June 17, 2018

AND THE CON GOES ON...


I’ve been writing this blog for more than four years, and in that time penned about 450 separate essays on fisheries management and related matters.  Sometimes, I worry that, at some point, I’m going to run out of topics.

Thus, today, I thought that it would be appropriate to thank the Center for Sportfishing Policy, and affiliated organizations such as the American Sportfishing Association, Coastal Conservation Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association and others, for running what may be the longest continuous effort to con Congress and the American angler ever attempted, and so giving me plenty of things to write about.

I’m speaking, of course, of the continuing effort to weaken federal fishery conservation and management laws, which has taken various forms over that time, but can be pretty well boiled down into three words:  Modern Fish Act.

And yes, I know that I write about the Modern Fish Act in every other blog, and you’re probably tired of reading about it by now.  But if it’s any solace at all, you can be pretty damned certain that you’re not anywhere near as tired of reading about that misbegotten piece of legislation as I am of writing about it, but because this is such a long-running and multi-layered con, with so much invested in its ultimate success, the second we let our collective guard down, the folks promoting the law are going to slip past and steal the future health of our saltwater fish stocks, so it pays to keep paying attention.


Both op-eds are similar, not just in the fact that they support the Modern Fish Act, but in the fact that they target an inland audience, and inland legislators, who are not all that familiar with what goes on in coastal fisheries, and in the fact that in making their case, they have engaged in the sort of deceptive language that has been a hallmark of Modern Fish Act supporters from the beginning.

Dammrich’s begins with an interesting twist. 

Freshwater fishermen, as a group, have been subject to size limits, bag limits, seasons and other regulations far longer than saltwater anglers.  Most have long recognized that in most areas, good regulations are a prerequisite to good fishing; without them, most waters would quickly be, and in the past often were, “fished out.”  So they’re not likely to be swayed by the complaints about “annual catch limits [that] don’t fit” which appear in some of NMMA’s other Modern Fish Act propaganda.

Instead, he makes a broader, more general attack on the regulatory process, writing

“With Lake Michigan to the north, the Wabash River to the east, the Ohio River to the south, and the Mississippi River to the west, Illinois has access to fishing no matter where you turn.  But following all the rules and regulations can quickly turn a peaceful fishing trip into a major headache.  [emphasis added]”
It’s a good gambit because, let’s face it, no one likes to be regulated.  We complained about enforced bedtimes as kids, and about curfews in high school.  As adults, we rail against red light cameras, even though we all know in our hearts that not running a red light is a very good way t avoid both traffic fines and a possibly fatal collision.  But somewhere back in our minds, there’s this whole anti-Big Brother thing…

Thus, appealing to that rebellious instinct by a broad attack on fishing regulations is a sure way to win some degree of sympathy from anglers and others, even though most of those anglers probably don’t have much of a quarrel with Illinois’ angling rules, and probably realize that without them, there wouldn’t be too many fish left in the state’s waterways.

But once you have that sympathy, it’s easy to transfer it to salt water anglers who, according to Dammrich, are suffering under the current version of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.  He tells the folks in Illinois that while their

“regulations may seem burdensome…they are actually far less constricting than those faced by saltwater anglers.”
The key to his argument is to present his allegations without any factual support.

If he tried to provide facts to shore up his position, it might be hard to explain why a regulation that allows a fisherman to retain 15 bluefish on the Atlantic coast, with no minimum size or season at all, is more “constricting” than Illinois rules that allow an angler to take home 3 northern pike of 24 inches or more, or 1 36-inch-plus muskellunge.  Rules in the Gulf of Mexico that allow anglers to keep 15 foot-long Spanish mackerel per day seem a lot less “constricting” than Illinois rules that permit anglers to keep 6 14-inch walleye or 5 trout and salmon.

Yes, some salt water regulations, for a few species, are more restrictive than that, but then there are plenty of places in Illinois that have special regulations much more restrictive than the general rules, too.

But those are facts, and we’re talking about the Modern Fish Act, where facts are a threat to the con.  That becomes particularly true when Dammerich makes a misleading statement that we hear, in various forms, time and time again in Modern Fish Act debates:

“…[T]he Modern Fish Act…would also protect fish populations by continuing the important conservation work started by the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 1976.”
Really?  Just what “important conservation work” would that be?


The meaningful conservation work didn’t begin until after passage of the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996, which required federal fishery managers to promptly end overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks, and the 2006 reauthorization of Magnuson-Stevens, which required that annual catch limits for almost all managed stocks and held fishermen accountable if those annual catch limits are exceeded. 

Given that the text of the Modern Fish Act (more technically, the Modernizing Recreational Fishery Management Act) as originally introduced, clearly attempts to exempt recreational fishermen from the annual catch limits that prevent overfishing in many fisheries, and the associated accountability if they do overfish, and creates broad exceptions to the rebuilding requirements for overfished stocks, the notion that the Act would continue Magnuson-Stevens’ conservation work is more than a little hard to believe.

Then there are the true statements that appear in both Dammrich’s and Pfeiffer’s op-eds, which make anglers feel good about themselves but hide a deeper and darker reality.  

Dammrich says that

“Casual anglers are careful to leave healthy fish populations because their favorite pastime depends on it—they want to enjoy their sport and understand the risk of overfishing.”
Pfeiffer echoes that sentiment when he says that

“Anglers have an inherent vested interest in making sure fish populations are healthy and capable of sustaining themselves year after year.”
Fair enough.  I may agree that such statements, particularly Pfeiffer’s, are true.

But I also know that most salt water anglers don’t spend a lot of time wondering whether regulations give fish stocks adequate protection; they have faith that their regulators won’t allow overfishing and will prevent stocks from falling into decline. So when rules are ultimately issued, anglers feel that they're doing the right thing merely by obeying the law.

And there’s a big difference between “anglers” wanting healthy fisheries, and the sort of more liberal harvest rules that various members of the tackle and boatbuilding industry are seeking.

They're looking for rules that will let anglers kill more fish, and so hopefull generated more industry revenues.  Pfeiffer admits that his goal is

“more demand for boats and marine accessories like those we manufacture and sell at Mercury Marine,”
which he believes would be generated by the Modern Fish Act’s changes to current law.


“Today’s system of fisheries management is outdated, and hampering access for our nation’s recreational anglers.   People won’t purchase boats and equipment if they see no reason to get out on the water.”

Again, it's all about generating revenues.

So while anglers might very well worry about overfishing and maintaining sustainable fisheries, it seems that the folks writing op-eds and appearing in videos for the boatbuilding industry want to see a law that allows

in order to maximize recreational harvest and—at least in their hopeful eyes—maximize the amount of product that they sell.

As is the case in every con, you need to listen very closely to what the folks say, and not listen to what they want you to hear…

But the greatest Modern Fish Act con is that, the "Modern Fish Act" is what the folks who have been pushing the bill are actually trying to pass.

Last year, two bills were introduced in Congress, H.R. 2023 in the House and S. 1520 in the Senate.  The House version was the worse of the two, although neither was much good and both threatened managers’ ability to manage fish stocks for sustainable abundance. 

The Senate bill was reported out of committee, where a strong bipartisan effort stripped most of the bad language out of the bill, and put some good language in; what remains is somewhat spiteful and petulant, but won’t prevent federal fishery managers from doing their jobs.  

As S. 1520 stands today, it’s largely harmless.

However the House bill, H.R. 2023, is effectively dead.  It never made it through committee, and with just six months left in the legislative session, and elections in November,it’s almost certain that it never will. 


H.R. 200 is essentially a retread of bills that have been rattling around Congress with little effect since Magnuson-Stevens was reauthorized in 2006.  H.R. 200 includes some language taken from the Modern Fish Act, but it also includes a lot of far worse (and yes, there is far worse) language that would create very broad exceptions to the fishery conservation and management requirements of Magnuson-Stevens, and threaten the sustainability of many fish stocks.

If the inoffensive S. 1520, which Modern Fish Act supporters can point to as a seemingly benign bill, is passed by the Senate, it will be sent to conference committee not with H.R. 2023, but with H.R. 200.  The mating of those two bills would produce a chimera, a misbegotten hybrid that would likely include all of the worst aspects of the original Modern Fish Act, along with even worse provisions from H.R. 200, and do it while avoiding most of the public debate and bipartisan negotiations that would otherwise have taken place if the bill had to go through the normal lawmaking process.

That, then, is the ultimate goal of the Modern Fish Act con.

To sell anglers and Senators on the mild S. 1520, the only pure “Modern Fish Act” that has a chance to pass in either house, and then conference it with H.R. 200, in order to bring back all of the bad—and more—removed by the Senate’s bipartisan effort.

It’s a classic slight-of-hand, in which one hand distracts while the other hand steals.

But cons only work if you fall for the patter, and don’t watch what both hands are doing.

Once you know where the con man is heading, it’s easy to get out of his way.  And once we do that, we have an obligation to reach out to others, expose the con for what it is, and run the con men out of town—or at least out of Congress.

For if they stay there, we all stand to lose.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

IS IT TIME FOR A WANTON WASTE LAW?


Yesterday, someone sent me a news article about a billfish tournament down in Mississippi.  A 796-pound blue marlin won the event.  A 739 took second place.

Seeing that sort of thing, my first reaction was to envy the guy in the chair.  Some folks have the time and the money to chase billfish around the world, and some live close by good billfish waters and catch their share close to home.  I fish offshore in the northeast, where blue marlin are caught every once in a while.  Though I’ve encountered their little white cousins, so far, I’ve yet to match myself against a big blue.

I’m still hoping that day will come, but I only want it to happen if it ends with both me and the marlin surviving the event.  

Which led to my second reaction to the tournament piece.  I wondered what happened to those two big Mississippi marlin once they were taken down from the scales.

The article didn’t talk about that.

I’d like to think that the fish were cut up by the crews, maybe smoked or tossed on the grill and eaten, in time, by someone.  If the crews didn’t want them, I’m sure there are plenty of folks in that part of Florida who have fallen on pretty hard times, and that they’d appreciate any bit of fresh fish that might be donated to a local food bank or homeless shelter. 


“Fish weighed at the scales may be returned to the boat or be donated to the tournament for the purposes of research and feeding the hungry.”
That gives me hope that both of those marlin were, in the end, used as food.

But it doesn’t always happen that way.  In the past, far too often, large gamefish such as marlin, sharks tarpon and, years ago, even giant tuna were just killed, weighed and dumped back out at sea or tossed in a local landfill.  When I first started fishing offshore, 35 or 40 years ago, I recall that a garbage truck was always a fixture at offshore tournaments and club contests, to accept contestants’ entries once they came off the scales.

At some events, that still happens today.

Yes, biologists often attend the tournaments, to take various samples from the fish that are weighed in, but that’s more a matter of making the best of a bad situation than anything else.  I’ve never spoken to anyone taking such samples who wasn’t willing to say, in quiet conversation, that they’d prefer that the fish hadn’t died.

Still, as the tournament rule quoted above illustrates, things are getting a little better.  Some use is being found for the fish weighed in.  Marlin, and anything else, donated “for the purposes of research” might or might not still end up in a dumpster, but at least tournament sponsors have begun to be conscious of the need to avoid waste, if only for purposes of also avoiding bad publicity.

Hunters in this country figured that out a long time ago.  I’ve long contended that the conservation ethics of salt water fishermen lags that of hunters and fresh water anglers by 50+ years; as a group, we’re just beginning to figure out what our inland brethren learned two or three generations back.

There was a time when some hunters would kill an elk, a sheep or a deer just for the trophy and photos, and leave the meat for the coyotes and flies (dumpsters being scarce in the woods and the mountains, disposal took alternate means).  That was particularly true in what were still wilderness areas, where wealthy sportsmen from other parts of the continent, and other parts of the world, ventured out on extended hunts, where they killed vast amounts of game for nothing more than the horns and the photos.


“the most outrageous of slob hunting trips,”
noting that

“It is estimated that Gore killed more than 4,000 bison, 1,500 elk, 2,000 deer, 1,500 antelope, 500 bear and hundreds of smaller animals and birds…about half of those were killed in the Yellowstone River Valley during Gore’s 10-month stay on the Tongue River.
“There’s no telling how many animals he wounded.  By one account, he was a ‘rather indifferent’ shooter when not using a rest…
“That Gore left many animals to rot angered even his own entourage.
“…’His prairie hunting behavior proved so extreme that it offended both local native bands and many of the frontiersmen whom he had hired for the expedition.’
“Certainly the Indians in the regions where he hunted frowned upon the waste.  The Yampas reportedly told him to leave their Colorado lands.  The Crow complained to their Montana Indian agent, but it did no good.
“…given his excesses, Gore’s a perfect poster boy for today’s conservationists and sportsmen as an example of all that is wrong with slob hunting…”
In response to similar excesses that, although not as outrageous as Gore’s, still wasted vast amounts of big game that was valued by subsistence hunters and more rational sportsmen, many states, particularly in the West, adopted “wanton waste” laws which made it clear that hunters who don’t utilize the game that they killed would be punished.

In other words, if you kill it, you’d damned well better eat it, or face a substantial fine.

The laws take slightly different shapes in different places, but the gist of them is the same.  In Wyoming, the Game and Fish Department warns hunters that “wanton waste” involves

“Shooting an animal and leaving the meat to waste.  Hunters are required to immediately remove all edible portions of meat from their big game animal.  This includes all front and hind quarters and the loin meat along the spine.”


“Under Montana law, it is illegal to waste any part of a game animal that is defined as ‘suitable for food.’  For big game animals, all four quarters above the hock, including loin and backstrap, are considered suitable for food.  Wanton waste of fish or game is not only illegal, it’s unethical.
“For birds, only the breast meat has to be used on all birds that are the size of a partridge or smaller.  For upland birds larger than a partridge, including pheasants and sage grouse, the breast meat and thighs must be kept.  With large birds like turkeys, the breasts, thighs, and wings must be used…”
Maybe it’s time that we start thinking about similar laws for our salt water fish.

Start with the folks who hold Highly Migratory Species permits. 

Sure, they can weigh in their tournament marlin.  But after the photos are taken and the fish has been taken  off the scales, it’s the permit holder’s responsibility to make sure that the fish is not wasted.  The tournament can certainly make arrangements with a shelter or food bank to receive the fish, but it should be the permit holder’s responsibility, not the tournament’s, to comply.  And noncompliance should earn a big fine.

The same thing would apply to shark fishermen.  Nothing would stop them from putting that 300-pound blue shark on the scale, but they better have kept it iced it down, to prevent the urea in the shark‘s blood from breaking down and tainting the meat with ammonia.  And yes, blue sarks are edible if you handle them right.  About 20 years ago, one of my anglers put a 307-pounder on the scales—it took first in one tournament and second in another run on the same day.  We spent a lot of hours cutting up and packaging the meat, and distributing what we couldn’t use to friends, family and co-workers.  One guy I worked with put it on the grill and said that it was the only fish that his son ever actually ate.

We never would have thought of feeding that fish to a dumpster.

The same respect should be afforded at the state level, for smaller, less glamourous fish.  It’s not just those with charisma that deserve protection.



“Ray meat is difficult to cook and has a urine taste,”
but folks should think about that before they release an arrow.

Here on Long Island, and elsewhere in the upper Mid-Atlantic/southern New England region, we see too many anglers wasting fish that are actually good to eat, just because they’re not very pretty.  Go to just about any shoreline fishing spot, and you’ll find the rotting carcasses of sea robins and skates that were caught and tossed above the high-tide mark to die, because someone got upset that an unwanted species took their bait.

Many anglers don’t realize that sea robins are wonderfully edible, and skates are also becoming a more common offering in fish markets and seafood restaurants.  But even if that were not true, both fish have a role to play in the marine ecosystem, and as pioneer ecologist Aldo Leopold once wrote,

“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, ‘What good is it?’  If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not.  If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts?  To keep every cog and wheel is the first principle of intelligent tinkering.”
Killing any fish out of ignorance and pique, and not because someone wants it for food, is clearly wrong.

The good news is that people, including a lot of anglers, are losing their tolerance for waste.  The next logical step is to make the wanton waste of marine resources not only intolerable, but illegal as well.

Fish can be many things.  They can be food, they can be a sought-after quarry, they can be a sleek bit of beauty that adorns a tropical reef.

But they should never be considered, or treated like, garbage.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

TRUTH, CONSEQUENCES AND THE MODERN FISH ACT


For the past 15 months or so, anglers have been the targets of an intense, and intensively funded, public relations campaign that has urged them to support the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act, something that its supporters refer to bey the more appealing sobriquet of “The Modern Fish Act.”

Anglers’ rights groups implored their members to support the legislation, with the Recreational Fishing Alliance and the like-minded Coastal Conservation Association both praising the bill.


“One of the association’s main priorities is to see the Modern Fish Act become law.  This bipartisan bill will make long-overdue changes to improve federal marine fisheries management.  We need our entire industry to stand behind it and promote it to the recreational fishing public.  Our partner in the legislative effort, the Center for Sportfishing Policy, has developed a suite of digital tools that you an use on your websites and social media to bring awareness of this bill to your customers.  It’s time for recreational fishermen and our industry to speak up—help us expand this call to action.”


“Never has there been a more critical time to get involved in advocacy and attend the American Boating Congress.  In 2018, the recreational boating industry is facing major policy decisions that will come to a head this summer and have long-lasting impacts on boating in the U.S., including getting the Modern Fish Act passed…”

“It is critical we engage with our nation’s decision-makers now to shape legislative decisions in the coming months.  With so many key issues coming to a head this summer, it’s imperative that you attend this year’s American Boating Congress to help us address major policy decisions impacting your business…”


“Anglers of all backgrounds should be able to enjoy this great sport without limitation.  Although most of these efforts [to limit angling activities] the problems in saltwater today the problems in freshwater tomorrow.  [emphasis added]”

“The recreational fishing industry can flourish or fail based on decisions made in Washington, D.C.  Specifically, saltwater anglers continue to be misrepresented in major federal fisheries management policies.  And with one in every four anglers fishing in saltwater, that is too many Americans who cannot enjoy the great pastime of fishing due to dated fishery management.  Bass Anglers for Saltwater Conservation brings both saltwater and freshwater fishermen together to defend the sport we all love.  [emphasis added]”
To call that a simplistic explanation of important fisheries issues, with no honest discussion of the issues involved would be, if anything, an understatement.  So naturally visitors to that page are quickly directed to another that encourages them to support the Modern Fish Act.  Again, the reasoning is superficial”

“The Modern Fish Act is at a crucial stage, with votes approaching in both chambers of Congress.  However, we still need your voice to support this bill and the rights of recreational anglers.  Click below to send a letter urging your elected officials to support the Modern Fish Act.  [emphasis added]”
As I said, despite the name of the site, there isn’t a lot of conservation being promoted there.

And when we recognize that, we start to get closer to the truths underlying the Modern Fish Act.

Modern Fish Act supporters have long tried to disguise themselves by hiding under the mantle of conservation.  The American Sportfishing Association has claimed that

“It will improve access to America’s federal waters and promote conservation of our natural marine resources,”
although how greater “access”—which, in the Modern Fish Act context, always means more dead fish, as there is no bar to anglers merely venturing into federal waters, and so “accessing” them, today—will promote conservation is never exactly explained.


“We are proud to Work with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to advance a common-sense policy that remains true to our conservation goals while promoting access to our healthy natural resources.”
The latter quote was reprinted on On the Water magazine’s website, and immediately drew a response from a reader who said

“Shame on OTW for this ‘article.’  Don’t believe this garbage for a second.  This act is being pushed through by companies trying to sell more boats.  The results will be loopholes that allow overfishing and stocks will collapse…”
While I disagree with that reader’s first sentence—I’m a strong supporter of the First Amendment, and believe that a publication has the right to publish anything that it wishes, so long as it’s not defamatory, and further believe that a reputable publication, which I consider On the Water to be, has an obligation to acknowledge many differing viewpoints—I think that the rest of that comment pretty well captures the rarely-spoken truth about why folks are trying so hard to get the Modern Fish Act passed.

And truth, as they say, will out.


“These amendments need to not only support the existing populations of recreational anglers and fishing related businesses but also allow new entrants to come into the fishery and businesses to grow and expand. 
“The law needs to recognize that in its current form, our tradition of fishing cannot be passed onto our children without [the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act] taking away opportunity from the rest of the fishing community.”
It wouldn’t be at all unreasonable to interpret that statement to mean that the intent behind the Modern Fish Act isn’t to better conserve and manage fish stocks, as the Act’s supporters often say, but to provide a bigger pool of dead fish to support an increase in the number of fishermen, and a related increase in the size, number—and profits—of fishing related businesses.

In fact, it’s hard to interpret such statement in any other way.
Such an interpretation finds support in a number of recent comments made by leading members of the boatbuilding industry.


“Today’s system of fisheries management is outdated, and hampering access for our nation’s recreational anglers.  People won’t purchase boats and equipment if they see no reason to get out on the water…  [emphasis added]”
From that, NMMA’s reasons for supporting the Modern Fish Act seem pretty clear.  And conservation isn’t among them…

This week, two other pieces authored by boating industry insiders came out, in support of the Act.  One was written by John Pfeiffer, President of Mercury Marine, which is headquartered in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  Writing in the Kenosha (WI) News, Mr. Pfeiffer noted that

“Under Magnuson-Stevens as currently written, the federal government tries to manage a family on a day-trip the same way they it manages commercial fishermen who fill their holds with thousands of fish.  The failure to make a clear distinction between the two pursuits makes little sense and stunts the growth of the American sportfishing and boating industries
“While Wisconsinites mainly fish in fresh water, we’re excited about the Modern Fish Act.  By updating and improving saltwater fisheries management, the recreational fishing industry would grow, creating more demand for boats and marine accessories like those we manufacture and sell at Mercury Marine…    [emphasis added]”
There’s that “let’s kill more fish so we can expand our business” thing again…


“Recreational fishing matters to hundreds of Connecticut marine businesses, including mine.”
Taken together, it’s all pretty clear.  The Modern Fish Act has nothing to do with conservation.  The truth is, it’s all about the bottom line.

The interesting thing is that, when people learn the truth, it has consequences.


The Galveston County Daily News has reported that “Charter groups dump Yamaha motors over lobbying.”  {Unfortunately, the story is behind a pay wall, but anyone who wants to confirm the headline, or pay to read the whole thing, can click on this link.)

According to the Daily News,

“About a dozen local charter company boat captains so far have sold their Yamaha motors and replaced them with different brands to protest the Yamaha Motor Co., a multinational company based in Japan that makes and sells outboard motors and boats, among other products.
“The company has advocated for changes to the federal fishing management law that would roll back some of the principals [sic] that helped rebuild once-depleted fisheries and lead to unsustainable practices, said Scott Hickman, owner of Circle H Outfitters, a charter fishing company.”
Capt. Hickman reportedly said that

“We had turned the corner and rebuilt these fisheries.  Now, companies like Yamaha are funding bad legislation that would roll back the conservation aspects of the act.”
Yamaha, not unsurprisingly, denies doing anything that would harm fish stocks, but has admitted that

“The company pushed for the changes because they would update how data is collected about the fishery and extend recreational seasons, which is good for business.  [emphasis added]”
But extended recreational seasons aren’t necessarily good for the fish.  As the Daily News article notes,

“Mike Short, a Galveston captain who owns Get Hooked Charters, removed the Yamaha motors on several of his boats in protest of the company’s lobbying.  Short supported longer recreational seasons, but thought recreational anglers should be held to enforcement standards for catch limits like other sectors, he said.
“’Yamaha is sticking its nose where it shouldn’t,’ Short said.  ‘Their job is to build and sell motors.  There’s plenty of fish out there, they just need to let the government do what they do to manage the fishery.’”
Change “Yamaha” to “fishing and boating trade groups, as a whole,” and he’s pretty well said it all.






Thursday, June 7, 2018

TIME TO HELP OUT THE HERRING--AND THEIR PREDATORS


Sometimes it seems that too many people, including fishery managers, forget that fish have to eat.

Thus, we get high-volume fisheries for forage species, the low trophic level fish that feed largely on plankton and, in turn, serve as food for everything else in the sea.  

For far too long, those who manage such fisheries have remained focused only on maintaining the sustainability of the forage fish harvest, and spend too little time focusing on the importance of such forage species to both larger predators and to the fisheries that such predators support.

That is slowly beginning to change.



As the Draft Amendment notes,

“Atlantic herring have supported an important commercial fishery since the late 19th century and play a very important role in the ecosystem as forage fish for many predators including marine mammals, larger fish, and seabirds, which support additional commercial, recreational and ecotourism industries…
“The primary purpose of Amendment 8 is to modify the fishery management plan for Atlantic herring fishery by:
1.        Proposing a long-term acceptable biological catch (ABC) control rule for the Atlantic herring fishery that may explicitly account for herring’s role in the ecosystem and to address the biological and ecological requirements of the Atlantic herring resource.
2.       Proposing measures to address potential localized depletion of Atlantic herring to minimize possible detrimental biological impacts on predators of herring and associated socioeconomic impacts on other user groups.”

With regard to such localized depletion, the Draft Amendment states that

“Localized depletion occurs when harvesting takes more fish than can be replaced either locally or through fish migrating into the catch area within a given time period.”
The Draft Amendment provides additional detail by including a “Council Problem Statement” that says

“Scoping comments for Amendment 8 identified concerns with concentrated, intense commercial fishing for Atlantic herring in specific areas and at certain times that may cause detrimental socioeconomic impacts on other user groups (commercial, recreational, ecotourism) who depend upon adequate local availability of Atlantic herring to support business and recreational interests both at sea and on shore.  The Council intends to further explore these concerns through examination of the best available science on localized depletion, the spatial nature of the fisheries, reported conflicts among users of the resources and the concerns of the herring fishery and other stakeholders.”
In other words, the problem is not a shortage of herring, at least if the current biomass is evaluated on a single-species, rather than on an ecosystem, basis.  Although the stock is managed very aggressively and with a minimum of precaution—the total allowable catch for 2018 is set so high that there is a 50-50 chance that overfishing will occur—the most recent operational stock assessment, conducted in 2015, found that spawning stock biomass was well over the target level, while fishing mortality was well below the overfishing threshold in 2014.


“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.  We live in a migratory corridor here.  We depend on the bait to be there.”

“Mid-water trawlers are breaking our local food web by removing millions of pounds of herring and in turn harming everything from cod fishermen to whale boat operators.  The residents of Cape Cod feel the effects of sea and river herring being taken from nearshore waters, are penalized for harvesting, possessing or selling it, yet the industrial fleets are not.
“They can legally catch hundreds of thousands of pounds of river herring that are tossed overboard dead.  Predators (striped bass, cod, tuna) leave our area because they don’t have enough to eat.  We think this is the most important offshore issue facing us now.”
There are thus a lot of voices calling for the New England Council to push the big herring trawlers further offshore.  


In Rhode Island, anglers are strongly supporting options in the Draft Amendment that would consider Atlantic herring’s role in the ecosystem when setting catch limits, and push the mid-water trawlers at least 25 miles offshore.  


“For Rhode Island a 25 mile buffer is important to help prevent localized depletion and user conflicts considering the major role herring plays around Block Island and Cox Ledge as forage fish for striped bass, cod, tuna, whales and other species.”
Conservation groups are also pushing for recognition of Atlantic herring’s importance as a forage fish, and for inshore buffers that exclude the mid-water trawlers.  

The Conservation Law Foundation, Wild Oceans and the National Audubon Society, among others, are asking that the big trawlers be pushed at least 50 miles offshore, to provide an adequate feeding corridor for the herring’s predators.

Not surprisingly, about the only opposition to managing herring as forage fish, and to creating the no-mid-water trawler buffer zone, comes from a group that disingenuously calls itself the “Sustainable Fisheries Coalition,” and describes itself as

“an organization of the Atlantic herring and Atlantic mackerel mid-water trawl and purse seine industry, operating from Maine through New Jersey.  The Coalition was established in 2007 to improve public outreach and education and increase awareness of the economic importance environmental sustainability of the Atlantic herring and Atlantic mackerel fisheries.”

“said in an email the current control rule [which ignores the Atlantic herring’s role in the ecosystem] is better because it allows for more flexibility in setting catch limits,”
and

“opposes any new restrictions because they claim there is no evidence that current regulations are harming herring.”
Of course, that latter comment ignores the whole point of ecosystem-based management—it’s not about not harming the targeted species, but about not harming the entire ecosystem within which the targeted species functions—but it’s about what you can expect from a group that specializes in removing many, many tons of forage fish from the ocean each year.

The very last thing they want anyone thinking about is their impact on the ecosystem…

But for those who believe that the health of the ecosystem matters, time is getting short.  The New England Fishery Management Council will be accepting comments on Draft Amendment 8 through 5:00 p.m. on Monday, June 25. 

Such comments should be addressed to Thomas A. Nies, Executive Director, New England Fishery Management Council, 50 Water Street, Mill 2, Newburyport, MA  01950.  If sent by mail, comments should be sent early enough that they are received by the June 25 deadline.  

Given the uncertainties of mail delivery, it might make more sense to email all comments to comments@nefmc.org, or fax them to 978-465-3116.

To make sure that all comments are sent to the right place, they should state “DEIS for Amendment 8 to the Atlantic Herring FMP” on the message line of all emails or elsewhere on mailed or faxed correspondence.

And if folks are concerned about a healthy ecosystem and forage fish stock, all comments relating to setting an Acceptable Biological Catch control rule should support Alternative 2, which

“would prioritize herring predator forage needs based on limiting fishing mortality to 50% of [fishing mortality at maximum sustainable yield],”
and with respect to potential localized depletion and user conflicts, either Alternative 5 (25-mile buffer) or Alternative 6 (50-mile buffer) to keep the mid-water trawls offshore and better assure that predators in nearshore waters will find enough herring to provide for their forage fish needs.

Of course, the Sustainable Fisheries Coalition—the folks who tow those big mid-water trawls—hope that no one does that sort of thing.

Which should be enough to get you off of your couch and onto your keyboard, to make sure that your comments are heard.