New England herring quota alternatives bear more bad news for lobster fishery
A range of alternatives recently approved by the New England Fishery Management Council for Framework Adjustment 6 to the Atlantic herring fishery has little positive news for the New England lobster industry, which relies on the fish for bait.
Framework Adjustment 6 will determine the overfishing definition for the Atlantic herring fishery, and three alternatives are currently on the table. Regardless of the alternative chosen by NEFMC, the herring quota won’t be increasing in 2020, and could decrease once again.
Alternative 1, which represents no change from the current 2019 fishing season, would set the overfishing limit at 30,668 metric tons (MT) and the acceptable biological catch at 21,266 MT, almost identical to 2019’s quotas.
Alternative 2, which was recommended by the Scientific and Statistical Committee in October 2018, is based on the proposed “Amendment 8 Control Rule.” It would set the overfishing limit at 41,839 MT, and the allowable biological catch at 16,131 MT. Alternative 3, which is also consistent with Amendment 8, would use more accurate catch data from 2018 and sets the overfishing limit at 40,574 MT and the allowable biological catch at 14,265 MT.
As recently as 2018, the herring acceptable biological catch was 110,000 MT, but a June 2018 Northeast Regional Stock Assessment Workshop found that poor recruitment was likely going to result in a substantial decline in herring biomass. In response to that, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) moved forward with an in-season adjustment that set the allowable biological catch at 21,266 MT.
As the council was grappling with the low herring biomass, it was also working on the Amendment 8 Control rule, which would make changes to the way the Atlantic herring fishery quota is determined to better account for the fish’s role in the wider ecosystem.
Amendment 8 still needs to be approved by the NMFS, but that decision is expected to come through some time in 2019.
Regardless of which alternative is chosen, the low herring quotas represent a significant challenge for the lobster industry, which relies on the fish as bait. The herring quota was a big topic of discussion at the recent Maine Lobstermen Association meeting in March, where fishermen were grappling with a loss of 70 percent of their primary bait source.
The three alternatives will likely only apply to the 2020 season, according to a release by the NEFMC. While the framework will include 2021 specifications, the numbers will “likely be revised in a subsequent action to reflect the results of the next stock assessment, which is now scheduled for spring 2020.”
That assessment could be either good news or bad news, depending on what the fishery and survey data reveal.