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Solution to shortage: don't export herring

June 25, 2007

National Fisherman
Mail Buoy
July 2007
Found at: National Fisherman

Solution to shortage: don’t export herring

In Kirk Moore’s articles on Northeast Herring in your May issue, there seems to be some misguided conclusions about the economics of herring as lobster bait. The article seems to make the claim that the price of lobster bait is going to go up this summer because the industrial midwater trawl ships won’t be allowed to fish in the inshore Gulf of Maine from June through September.

But Dave Ellenton, Chairman of the industry advisory panel says “purse seines will take just as many herring as the big boats could have with trawl gear”. And industry lobbyist Jeff Kaelin says “the world market is flooded”. If the purse seine fleet can catch just as much herring as the midwater ships and the world market for herring is flooded, why would the price of bait rise?

I’m not a PhD economist, but I just don’t see how it all adds up. If the purse seiners can catch just as much herring inshore and the world market is flooded, that should mean cheaper bait than we had last summer when the midwater trawl ships were exporting herring and we had to import our bait from Canada.

The real threat to the bait market isn’t the Purse Seine/Fixed Gear Only Area, but rather the export market that these vertically integrated, multinational corporations that own the industrial midwater fleet have developed. The export market takes badly needed bait off the market and drives up the price of bait.

The midwater trawl industries paid spokespeople like to go around finger pointing and fear mongering about the bait supply, but before the super efficient midwater trawl ships came to New England from Alaska, Ireland and elsewhere, our New England owned purse seine fleet had no problem catching herring to support the bait market and the canneries. They caught up the available Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and, instead of selling it frozen in Africa and the Middle East, they sold it as bait right here in the United States of America. It seemed to me like a pretty good system: local vessels catching herring and selling it to local businesses. But at times last summer we had to buy our herring from Canada because the midwater ships were sending so much of their herring overseas.

Moore’s article also fails to understand the fundamental premise of the Purse Seine/Fixed Gear Only Area: protection of the inshore herring stock. The science on herring shows that while the overall stock is stable, the inshore stock is beginning to decline. The New England Council was so concerned by this that one of the major goals of Amendment 1 was to develop the offshore herring fishery and limit access in the inshore.

It makes sense to me that if the inshore stock is in decline then we should stop the industrial herring fleet from hammering the inshore stock during the summer when it is most vulnerable and most other fishermen are relying on it. If the inshore herring stock collapses it’s not just the herring industry that will be decimated, but also the lobster, tuna, groundfish and whale watch industries.

The inshore stock is extremely important both ecologically and economically and it makes sense to protect it. I for one don’t want the future of my business and my family exported across the seas so a handful of corporations can benefit in the short term.

By keeping the industrial herring ships out of the inshore and giving the purse seiners a chance to catch some fish in the summer, we should see the quota stretch out a little so that lobstermen are not stuck buying Canadian fish all summer while much of the herring is sent overseas as in years past. It just makes sense to keep the biggest ships in the region off the beach in the summer. We saw what the foreigners did to the herring stock before the Magnuson Act passed in 1976. We shouldn’t repeat the same mistake simply because the ships now fly American flags. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

What we need is to get back to the purse seine bait fishery that provided bait for lobstermen and kept the inshore stock healthy for decades. We don’t need these massive ships stripping away all the herring and selling them half way around the world.


Mike Blanchard
Newbury, MA

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