CHATHAM — A decision by federal regulators to adopt restrictions on herring trawler operations is being hailed by local fishermen.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week approved Amendment 8 to the Atlantic Herring Fisheries Management Plan, including restricting midwater trawl gear inshore of the 12-mile limit from the Canadian border to Connecticut and inshore of 20 miles off Cape Cod.
“This little fish means so much to our community,” John Pappalardo, CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, said in a statement issued Friday. “People trying to resurrect our herring runs, support historic fishing effort, rebuild the ecosystem, all rallied around this one key step. This is a great moment for us all, truly worth a thanksgiving at Thanksgiving.”
According to a letter from NOAA Regional Administrator Michael Pentony to New England Fisheries Management Council chair John Quinn, the measures are intended to minimize localized depletion of herring and conflicts between user groups. The midwater trawlers often scoop up huge quantities of the fish, and important bait and forage species. Because those vessels can fish offshore, prohibiting them from inshore waters helps “ensure herring are available for other user groups and predators of herring,” Pentony wrote.
The restriction may also have biological benefits, he added, if moving the fleet offshore minimize the catch of river herring and reduces fishing pressures on the inshore herring stock. Midwater trawlers, which work in pairs towing nets the size of football fields, often don't distinguish between ocean and river herring; the latter species swims up local herring runs into fresh water ponds to spawn. The vessels have been impacting herring populations since the early 2000s, fishermen say.
“It hasn’t been the same since,” fisherman John Our said in the CCCFA statement. “When they come through, they take everything.”
“We had an amazing haddock fishery,” fisherman Charlie Dodge said of the midwater trawlers. “They destroyed the haddock fishery, and the cod fishery and all the other groundfish.”
“To catch fish you need forage fish,” said Our. “My best days were when there were a lot of bait fish around.”
The restrictions had wide support locally.
“The announced protections will give herring a fighting chance to recover,” said Andrew Gottleib, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, which joined groups fighting for the new regulations. “River herring are essential to life on Cape Cod. It’s now incumbent on the residents of the Cape to protect and restore the water quality of the ponds and bays herring rely on to spawn.”
Doreen Leggett, community journalist and communications officer with the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, contributed to this story.