CHOIR: Coalition for the Atlantic Herring Fishery's Orderly, Informed, and Responsible Long-Term Development


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CHOIR heads to DC to ask Congress for more observer coverage in the Herring midwater trawl fleet

February 14, 2007

January 23, 2007

Diverse Group of Fishing Interests Calls for More Money to Observe Herring Trawlers

Portland, ME & Chatham, MA Tuna fishermen and lobstermen from Maine and Massachusetts are traveling to Washington, DC this week to ask Congress to lay out more money to observe the herring trawl fleet. Coverage on the fleet has dropped from more than 15% to less then five percent. The cut in observers has made it impossible for National Marine Fisheries Service to monitor the haddock bycatch cap that is intended to limit the amount of juvenile haddock taken as bycatch by the midwater trawl fleet.

“With so many fish interacting with herring schools, it’s essential that there are Federal observers onboard to quantify the amount of fish that’s being caught as bycatch in this fishery,” said CHOIR Coalition Chairman Peter Baker, “when you fish for tiny fish with huge nets there’s too much at stake not to have observers on board.”

Aside from groundfish and tuna bycatch concerns, many in New England have expressed concern over marine mammal and seabird bycatch in the midwater trawl fishery. In addition, many lobstermen are concerned about the destruction of their gear when the midwater trawl fleet, especially the pair trawlers, come inshore. “Last month those big pair trawl ships came through and wiped out a bunch of our lobster gear. It costs us a fortune and really screwed up the end of our season,” said Chatham, MA lobsterman Rocky Chase.

“As a tuna fisherman I’ve been concerned with what these ships catch. If tuna are in a school of herring when the pair trawls come by, they obviously catch the tuna with the herring,” said Tuna fisherman Chris Weiner of Portland, Maine. “The Feds need to be monitoring and observing what gets caught by these herring fishermen that isn’t herring.”

The fishing groups, consisting of members of the CHOIR Coalition, East Coast Tuna Association, General Category Tuna Association, Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, Outer Cape Lobstermen’s Association, GB Fixed Gear Sector, Conservation Law Foundation and the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association and joined by environmental group Conservation Law Foundation, are asking Congress to allocate $1,500,000 for observer coverage on the herring fleet in the 2008 Federal budget.

*Similar vessels in other parts of the country would have 100% observer coverage at a minimum. To read about observer coverage in the Pacific trawl fleet, click the following link:

Pacific Observer Coverage

New England Atlantic Herring Observers: An Investment in Restoring America’s Oldest Fisheries and Coastal Communities

The Problem:

The Atlantic herring fishery poses serious threats to the health of New England’s ocean ecosystem. This fishery has doubled in size in recent years. It is dominated by massive pair-trawl boats that use two vessels to drag a very large trawl net at high speeds capable of catching more than 1 million pounds of fish in a single tow. The limited information available shows that the pair-trawl boats not only catch herring, but also blue fin tuna, harbor seals, dolphins, whales, and groundfish like haddock and cod. As well, they tow up fixed gear, costing fishermen hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

Growing scientific information also shows that this highly “efficient” type of fishing results in what is known as localized depletion, where all or nearly all of the herring in an area is stripped from the sea leaving little or no food behind for tuna, whales, groundfish and other species that need herring in the ecosystem for food. The bycatch of ocean life and localized depletion caused by the herring fishery has been confirmed by all types of fishermen throughout New England.

The Important Role of Herring Fishery Observers

Observers are the best way to obtain data about bycatch and are a critical step in obtaining accurate scientific knowledge that is needed to promote sustainable fisheries. Observers are scientists who collect important information about fishing by accompanying commercial fishermen at sea. They record data on the composition and amount of what is actually caught – including the unwanted ocean wildlife that is caught and discarded, dead or dying – as compared to landings data, which is only a record of what is brought to port.

Fishery scientists state that a minimum of 50 percent observer coverage for herring fishing trip is necessary to provide reliable data concerning bycatch in the fishery. When herring observer coverage was recently increased to about 20 percent, the data collected gave managers a glimpse of the impacts of the herring fishery. Unfortunately, the National Marine Fisheries Service slashed 2006 observer coverage for the herring fishery in New England to less than three percent coverage. The lack of sufficient data hinders sustainable management of the fishery and the other fisheries and ocean life that herring support. Action is needed to restore funding for herring observers in 2007.

Congress can help now by providing additional funding for Observers for the Atlantic Herring fishery

We recommend that Congress provide $1.5 million for herring observer activities. This funding will help increase coverage to over 50 percent of anticipated herring trips in the quickly developing herring fishery.

Observer programs are an investment in our public resource that will promote improved fishery management based on sound science and good information.

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