The observations of local NOAA habitat specialist Eric Hutchins, who has sighted just 47 river herring — far fewer than usual — working their way up the fish ladder in West Gloucester this spring doesn't bode well for that species if that trend continues.
But while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration considers whether to declare the river herring as "threatened" — and thereby give it protections under the federal Endangered Species Act — it's not clear that clamping any bans or new limits on the commercial ocean herring industry will help restore the river herring stock. In its own petition for the "threatened" designation, the National Resources Defense Council — an official-sounding name for an environmental lobbying group — concedes that "the blockage of spawning rivers by dams and other impediments, combined with habitat degradation ..." have severely depleted river herring populations as well as any alleged overfishing.
Given the fact that river herring intermingle with ocean herring in bodies such as the Annisquam River, a move to attack the river herring's decline through tighter fishing regulations would just further devastate Gloucester's and other New England fishing economies. And as such, it would parallel NOAA chief administrator Jane Lubchenco's job-killing catch-share management groundfishing program that continues to drive out small, entrepreneurial fishing businesses while groups working with the likes of Wal-Mart and its Walton Foundation buy up more and more quota.
NOAA has set a series of workshops regarding the herring situation and the first is set for NOAA's Northeast regional headquarters in Gloucester's Blackburn Industrial Park on Friday, June 22.
Let's hope officials get the word then and there that any new clamps on commercial ocean herring fishing will not be effective, are unnecessary — and should be seen as unacceptable.