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Story Didn't Cut Through Smokescreen

March 22, 2007

The Ellsworth American
Another Viewpoint
Found at: Ellsworth American

My name is Chris Weiner. I am a tuna fisherman from Maine and was disappointed by Stephen Rappaport’s story on the herring fishery [“New Herring Fishery Restrictions a Concern for Maine Lobstermen,” Ellsworth American, March 15] and especially how it pertains to lobster bait issues. The story misses many of the key points regarding the new regulations and really only gives one side.

The new herring regulations creating a buffer zone free of midwater trawling in the Gulf of Maine has been a great step forward for all of us. The MLA and other lobster organizations supported the herring amendment actively. Bob Baines, at the meeting discussed in the story, said he and his organization still support the amendment and realized then and now that short-term bait shortages may have come from it. He said at that exact meeting that they still support it and know it’s vital in the long term.

The decrease in the quota is a whole different issue that is based on declining trawl surveys AND thousands and thousands of anecdotal reports from people on the water over the last five years that have seen herring declines in front of their own eyes. That said, it is a move made by managers and we all hope that it will not cause undue problems on our lobstermen.

One thing that is not mentioned is that there is an increasing food market for herring that has been the key reason bait shortages have been seen. There was NEVER a bait shortage before the big midwater trawlers began sending herring over to Africa and other places as cheap protein. This is well known. The panel at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum was made up of a number of herring industry lobbyists and so I would have hoped that The Ellsworth American could have seen through their smokescreen. Of course, they want to blame it on regulations and not on their own business choices. If they really wanted to keep bait flowing, they would and they could. But, instead, they catch all the bait so early that by the peak lobster season the quota is caught. We have seen bait shortages for a number of years now, and that clearly has nothing to do with any quotas, as the quota was only cut for the upcoming season a few weeks ago. The increasing food market is to blame there.

And as far as the comment by Jennie Bichrest quoted in the article, it’s the MOST false statement any of us have ever heard. We made this point at the meeting and so I don’t know why you guys would have not realized that what she said makes NO sense. There is absolutely no way that this will increase effort. Think about it—there is now limited access, which means less boats. And there is now only seiners, which means some of the trawlers that have been there are gone, and no new boats will come in, meaning less boats. Think about it. It’s physically impossible for this to increase effort.

It’s a shame that you guys were unable to realize the smokescreen that the midwater lobbyists and other herring industry people on the panel put up. There are thousands of fishermen and others from Maine and elsewhere who fought for years for many of the new regulations because the trawlers were ruining the ecosystem. None of this has any mention in the article, and the picture that is painted is heavily influenced by the claims (false claims) made by clever lobbyists at the meeting.

I would hope that in the future you guys would do a better job touching on all aspects of a story. Lobster bait is important to all of us in Maine and the regs that were put in place are there in large part to ensure lobster bait is around in the future. But after reading this story, people are going to assume the opposite. It is vital that we protect the lobster bait and forage for all the species off our shore. Herring Amendment 1 and the buffer zone were put in place to do that. They will not increase effort. They will greatly reduce it. Please don’t take the word of the herring lobby in the future without looking into the issue. There are countless lobstermen, tuna fishermen, whale watchers, groundfishermen, recreational fishermen and others that are ecstatic about the new regulations and their voice is not heard in your story. That’s a shame.

Chris Weiner is a tuna fisherman from Portland

To read Rappaport’s original story, Click here

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