To the editor:
As a commercial groundfish and tuna fisherman, my livelihood is directly related to the health of the herring resource.
The groundfish fishery is highly dependent on herring. Cod, haddock, pollock and other species that support our fishery all feed on herring. If you don't have enough herring, you won't have enough groundfish. It is that simple.
It is not just the groundfish fishery that relies on a healthy herring resource, though. Bluefin tuna travel thousands of miles each year and during these long migrations they work up quite a hunger. Many of these fish come to the Gulf of Maine each year to do one thing: eat. And much of what they eat while they are here is herring. So do the stripers and other recreationally-important stocks in our waters.
Whales, dolphins and sea birds, which make the large eco-tourism industry possible, also rely on herring. The bottom line is that management of the herring fishery impacts everyone that makes a living on the Gulf of Maine.
For years, fishermen and others have been telling managers that the herring resource was not as healthy as some believed. The arrival of large pair trawlers in the 1990s, and the growth of that fleet, did a number on the stocks. But because the science said there was plenty of herring, what I and others said was ignored, labeled as "anecdotal."
But over the last year, some major changes have been seen in this herring science. Based on an updated stock assessment done this summer, it is now believed that there is about half as much herring as there was just a few years ago.
On top of that, the "retrospective analysis" shows that things were not as good in years past as was previously believed. While some are acting surprised by this, it is no surprise to just about everyone who fishes the Gulf of Maine. We have been telling mangers for years that there were a lot less herring out there than the science said, but apparently nobody was listening.
As a result of this updated assessment, the scientists are now calling for large cuts in the herring fishery. But for various reasons, including the importance of lobster bait (a key source of which is herring) some fishery managers have voiced opposition to making the cuts to the herring fishery. But if the science is right, and is not the followed, the herring resource could be in trouble.
While cuts may lead to more expensive bait in the short term, its better than having a herring stock crash a few years down the road, in which case there will be no herring bait available for any price. And just as importantly, as mentioned above, herring is more than just lobster bait — it is the most important forage stock in this region. Without herring, the other fisheries in the region, along with the other ocean industries that rely on herring, will be doomed.
The groundfish and tuna fleets have been cut back countless times as a result of science, and so we know how the herring fishermen feel. While we often don't like it, the bottom line is that, when the science says cuts or other changes are needed, those cuts or changes are made, even if it means suffering for us fishermen in the short term. Why this would be the case for some fisheries and not for another is hard for me to understand, especially given that herring are the backbone of our fishery.
The New England Fishery Management Council and National Marine Fisheries Service need to do what's right. Their decision could make or break the future for all the fisheries in this region.