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Maine DMR Advisory Council votes not to comply with ASMFC Spawning closures

July 10, 2007


At the end of June, the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Advisory Council voted against following new rules put in place this year to protect spawning herring.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) put new rules in place this year governing fishing on spawn fish. As opposed to prior years, this year, actual closures are supposed to be in place. No fishing was to be allowed in closed areas during specified dates, unless sampling shows that fish are spawning earlier (which would mean areas would be closed prior to the specified closures).

In prior years, the rules allowed fishing in closed areas, but no spawning fish were allowed to be landed. “Spawning” fish are fish in stages 5 and 6 of the spawning cycle (‘ripe and running’).

The new rules closing areas were thought by many to be needed to protect fish. Because midwater trawlers are incapable of releasing fish alive, many people worry that allowing them to fish during spawning periods would mean fish would be dumped if they were caught and actively spawning. Seiners are believed to be able to catch and release fish alive if they are spawning. But because of the nature of midwater trawl gear, actual closures are necessary to protect the fish.

According to Amendment 2 to the ASMFC herring plan: Spawning Closures & Default Dates

Spawning closures are based on commercial catch samples that are collected by at least August 1 for the Eastern and Western Maine areas, and by at least September 1 for the Massachusetts/New Hampshire area. If sufficient samples are not available, closures will begin on the default dates listed below and extend for at least four (4) weeks. Area 1A inshore spawning area closures will begin on the following dates, unless commercial catch samples show earlier spawning than the default date or continuing two weeks after the four-week closure.

Eastern Maine: August 15
Western Maine: September 1
Massachusetts/New Hampshire: September 21

By default, closures will last four (4) weeks. Catch sampling of the fishery will resume at the end of the initial four-week closure period. If catch sampling indicates significant numbers of spawn herring still are being harvested, closures will resume for an additional two weeks. Tolerance Provision,Zero Tolerance

Any vessel is prohibited to fish for, take, land, or possess “spawn” herring, as identified below, from or within a restricted spawning area. “Spawn” herring shall be identified as Atlantic herring in ICNAF gonadal stages V and VI.

Any vessel may fish for, take, land, or possess “spawn” herring from a management area outside of those identified in the Delineation of Spawning Areas. Any herring vessel having onboard spawn herring, which were caught outside of a management area that is under a herring spawning closure, may transit the closed area only if all of its fishing gear has been stowed.

State of Maine DMR Advisory Council Decision

While many were pleased with these new rules, and were confident that spawning fish would be protected for the first time in years, the State of Maine DMR Advisory Council voted last month to allow boats to fish in the closed areas. This decision will likely make a mockery of the new ASMFC rules, as boats will once again be allowed to fish in the “closed” areas. What effect this will have on other New England states has yet to be seen.

While there is a so-called “Zero Tolerance” rule in place, this rule has proven to be meaningless due to inadequate enforcement. What this rule means is that boats can fish in closed areas, on fish known to be spawning, but cannot land fish if they are stage 5 and 6. This rule leads to excessive dumping of fish; if a midwater trawler fills the net with spawning fish, they will dump the codend since they will not be allowed to land those fish.

But, because of weak enforcement, boats have been known to land spawning fish despite the “zero tolerance” rule. Because shore side enforcement is notoriously weak, boats can unload spawnn fish and avoid being caught.

Because of these reasons, the new rules were welcomed by many. The only way to stop spawn fish from being landed or killed by midwater trawlers, closed areas were the only meaningful way to go.

The vote by the Maine DMR Advisory Council will mean that the closed areas are no longer closed, and in turn, spawn fish will not be protected.

This will bring the State of Maine out of compliance at ASMFC.

To read more about the spawning rules, go to the following website: ASMFC

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