Save Atlantic Sea Herring
Join with us in calling on the New England Fisheries Management Council to use an Ecosystem Based Management approach to effectively manage Atlantic sea herring. Please sign ORI’s petition.
The Ocean River Institute was one of three plaintiffs in Flaherty v. Bryson, a case that found the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan violated the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (“MSA”), the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), because it did not sufficiently recognize the importance of Atlantic herring as prey for other commercially valuable fish.
For years we have asked the Council to manage Atlantic herring differently because of its role as a forage fish. We have seen the effects of managing herring using the traditional approach: one that manages a single fish species for the benefit of the directed fishery without regard for other fisheries or marine animals that depend on herring.
The Atlantic herring may not be the only prey fish in the region, however they are under more pressure today than ever before. Since 1985 the river herring – alewives, blueback, and shad – have declined by over 90%, leaving the Atlantic herring as one of the few available prey fish.
Striped bass, bluefish, tuna, whales, birds, and other marine life leave an area when there are insufficient herring to prey on. The whales – humpback, fin, minke, and bryde’s – also eat herring. Feeding whales and plunge-diving gannets allows for happier whale watchers, resulting more robust local economies: rounding up herring in bubble nets rounds up financial gains for the businesses.
To appropriately manage herring we need to have: 1. A stock assessment that sufficiently accounts for all of the sources of uncertainty including natural mortality, and 2. An appropriate control rule that can respond to a variety of changing fishing and environmental conditions and protect the marine ecosystem. Ultimately, we need a harvest policy that addresses some of the special and temporal concerns repeatedly raised by fishermen. We need to ensure there are enough herring when and where the predators need them.
An appropriate control rule for Atlantic herring should:
- Leave a large buffer between the OFL and ABC to account for scientific uncertainty
- It should establish a target biomass that is at or above 75% of the virgin biomass
- It should establish a cut-off biomass limit at or above 40% of the virgin biomass, like the one used for Antarctic krill, Alaska herring, and US west coast sardine and mackerel
- It should set a maximum fishing rate that corresponds to 50% FMSY or 50% of natural mortality (M), whichever is smaller
- It should adjust catch annually as the estimated population size increases or decreases
- It should end fishing if the cut-off biomass limit is reached
There is also a burgeoning body of science in the Gulf of Maine related to food webs. We look forward to using this information to improve the decision-making process as we move forward.