On the Brink: The Lynchpin of New England’s Fisheries

On the Brink: The Lynchpin of New England’s Fisheries

By Ben Martens

Atlantic Herring, while small in stature, loom very large in New England’s marine economy.  These teeming schools of silver forage fish serve as the lynchpin of the marine ecosystem as they are the food that sustains a wide range of species including tuna, cod, striped bass, sharks, marine mammals and birds. Herring is immensely important to the ecosystem, it is also used as a source of bait for many fishermen, with the majority of that flowing into Maine’s $500 million lobster fishery. Which if lost, would be devastating for the state.

That’s why all New Englanders – particularly the men and women who earn their livelihoods on the water – should be deeply alarmed by the latest assessment of regional herring stocks, which confirms the fishery is on the verge of collapse.  

The decline of Atlantic herring represents an existential threat to many New England fisheries and the fishing families who depend on them for their livelihoods. Without food in the ocean, without bait in the traps, the ecosystem and the entire fishing economy of new England begins to crumble. Because of this, commercial fishermen have been calling for stricter accountability, better data, and proactive management for over a decade to protect the bottom of the marine food web. Decisive action should have been taken to ensure that abundant forage and bait was protected in the waters off New England’s coast. Unfortunately, the small gains made only delayed, and were not enough to prevent, a fishery that is on verge of collapse.

We missed opportunities previously, let’s not miss the one that is before us today.

Thanks to nearly 15 years of work by fishermen, public officials and everyday citizens who care deeply about New England fisheries, the New England Fishery Management Council will meet in Plymouth, MA on September 25 to vote on new management measures. The vote will hopefully prevent the collapse of Atlantic Herring and begin the long, slow process of rebuilding the foundation of the ocean food web. Included in these measures are regulations that would force large industrial trawlers offshore and a change in the scientific process that would establish a baseline of management for forage considerations.

It is deeply unfortunate that this situation has been allowed to reach a crisis point. In the 1960s, foreign trawlers practically wiped out herring in the region. Our fishermen and fishing communities bore the brunt of the devastating impact as the collapse of herring reverberated throughout the rest of the ecosystem. In response, Congress created a 200-mile limit for foreign fleets, but even then, it took close to two decades for herring to rebound.

Today, we have even more to lose and it is our own mismanagement that is allowing it to happen. In New England, we have put strict regulations in place to control fishing effort on species like cod, bluefin tuna, and haddock but continue to ignore the importance of protecting what those species need to eat – herring.  Catch levels have skyrocketed by tons upon tons based upon poor science and with no regard for the consequences we are now facing. The piper has now come to collect what he’s due.

Scientists have analyzed the data. New England’s herring stock is in dire straits.

The Council must act to protect New England’s fisheries, not bend to pressure and ignore what is happening to the most important fish in our waters.  Too much damage has already been done and maintaining the status quo will result in disaster.

Ultimately, the effective management of Atlantic herring is fundamental to the health of New England’s ecosystem, providing an abundant bait source, and supporting jobs and communities that depend on them. Fresh, healthy seafood requires sustainable management of the entire ecosystem. Amendment 8 is necessary to right the ship – there is no time to waste.

Ben Martens is Executive Director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, a member of the Fishing Communities Coalition 

House Bill Latest Effort to Gut Sustainable Fisheries

FCC: House Bill Latest Effort to Gut Sustainable Fisheries

Commercial Fishermen Oppose Reckless Assault on Science-Based Fisheries Management as House Moves Forward with Magnuson-Stevens Overhaul (H.R. 200) 

Washington, DC – Members of the Fishing Communities Coalition (FCC) expressed their strong opposition to H.R. 200 as the U.S. House of Representatives prepared to vote this week on deeply flawed legislation that would weaken core provisions of America’s primary marine fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), in a misguided attempt to provide recreational fishermen more access at the expense of commercial fishermen.  

In a letter to congress, the members of the coalition of community-based, small-boat, commercial fishing organizations from Maine, Cape Cod, the Gulf of Mexico, California, and Alaska outlined their objections and urged members to vote no on H.R. 200, which would revise and reauthorize the MSA through 2022.

“By gutting science-based fisheries management, H.R. 200 imperils our fish, fishermen, and fishing communities in Maine and across the country,” said Ben Martens, Executive Director of the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association. “This anti-science, anti-sustainability bill discards core provisions of the MSA, thereby dramatically weakening it and putting the future of our fishing communities at risk in the process.”

“Simply put, clear evidence points to the fact that the Magnuson-Stevens Act is working,” said Eric Brazer, Deputy Director of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance. “It would be a major mistake to turn back the clock and weaken the protections responsible for rebuilding our nation’s most valuable fisheries, including American red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. Eliminating accountability for recreational catch could lead to unsustainable fishing practices that would hurt all fishermen and put our small family businesses in harms way.”

“This is the latest in a series of failed efforts to unwind the successful science-based fisheries management framework that has rebuilt America’s marine fish stocks, benefiting coastal communities and seafood consumers,” said Dwayne Oberhoff, Executive Director of the Morro Bay Community Quota Fund. “This deeply flawed bill would undermine key research and industry innovation on best fishing practices by adding months or possibly years of delay to the Exempted Fishing Permits (EFPs) process – stalling progress unnecessarily.”

In the FCC’s letter to congress, the coalition noted that this is the latest in a series of failed efforts to gut the MSA:

"This is the third Congress in which the Natural Resources Committee has attempted to enact this bill. Although this legislation passed the House during the 114th Congress, it was never taken up by the Senate due to its contentious nature. Meanwhile, since this bill’s first introduction in 2014 and subsequent failed efforts to enact it, the number of rebuilt fish stocks has continued to increase and overfishing in United States waters has been virtually eliminated under the current MSA framework. These remarkable successes would not have been possible had any iteration of this anti-conservation bill had been signed into law."  

Additional information on H.R. 200 and the Fishing Communities Coalition’s objections to the legislation can be found here.  



Fishing Communities Coalition to Policymakers: Magnuson-Stevens Act is Working

Washington, DC – During Capitol Hill Ocean Week 2018, members of the Fishing Communities Coalition (FCC) are urging lawmakers in Washington to defend science-based fisheries management under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which has demonstrated remarkable success in rebuilding once badly depleted fish stocks in U.S. waters.

Last month, NOAA Fisheries reported that the number of fish on the overfished list reached an all-time low in 2017. Additionally, three new fish stocks were rebuilt in 2017, bringing the total number of rebuilt stocks since 2000 to 44.

“This latest report reaffirms that the Magnuson-Stevens Act is working,” said John Pappalardo, FCC President and CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. “But there is much work to do, and reversing course would be a grave mistake. Congress must continue to invest in fisheries science to ensure we have the data on which to base important management decisions and resist shortsighted efforts to undermine key Magnuson-Stevens Act accountability provisions.” 

“Science-based fisheries management is common sense, and it works,” said Captain Bubba Cochrane, President of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance. “By sticking to the core principles of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, we will ensure a brighter future for all those working to supply America with locally harvested, sustainable seafood.”

The Fishing Communities Coalition’s seven member organizations represent over 1,000 fishermen from Maine, Cape Cod, the Gulf of Mexico, California, and Alaska.