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In the News: July 2014

Haddock trumps herring The New England Fishery Management Council voted 10-0 in June against an emergency request to increase the amount of haddock that herring fishermen can catch incidentally on Georges Bank (in Area 3). The council said haddock is too valuable to New England’s struggling groundfishermen to allow herring trawlers to catch more than the 179 metric tons they will be allowed in the year from May 1 to April 30, 2015. Herring fishermen have already caught about 5 percent of that quota, and with the heavy summer fishing season ahead, representatives of the industry said most of the region’s herring fleet fishing in Area 3 could be sidelined as early as September. Herring is the primary bait for Maine’s $364 million lobster fishery. Georges Bank is the source of the vast majority of the herring used by Maine’s 6,000 licensed lobster fishermen in late summer, accounting for 38% of the total herring quota allocation. Herring is forage food for many marine mammals, birds, and larger fish like tuna and striped bass. Conservation groups have sought for years to limit the catch of herring trawlers, the largest fishing vessels in New England. The population of Georges Bank haddock has increased in size, a good thing for groundfishermen but problematic for the herring vessels. Herring fishermen exceeded their limit of 273 metric tons of haddock last year and 286 metric tons in the previous year.

Right whales looking up A Canadian whale expert says the future of the North Atlantic right whale is looking up, with the highest population since scientists started tracking it 30 years ago. Moira Brown, a senior scientist with the Canadian Whale Institute, said it’s been a long road to rebuild the right whale population but there are now more than 500 documented animals. North Atlantic right whale sightings have been recorded on the entire East Coast of North America, with the majority from Florida up to the Bay of Fundy and the Roseway Basin. Brown said there have also been recent sightings around other parts of the Maritimes and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. More than 300 calves have been born in the last 15 years and fewer of them are being killed by ships passing through their habitats. In 2003, the federal government, environmental groups, oil companies and several other groups worked to reroute shipping lanes that went through whale habitat areas. The goal was to prevent ships from hitting whales as they passed through. US fixed gear fishermen have been subject to regulations to reduce entanglement risk since 1997.

Keep everything the same Lobster license holders in Canada’s largest and most productive lobster fishing area have voted not to shorten their six-month season or fish fewer traps. Some 980 skippers and boat owners in southwestern Nova Scotia’s Lobster Fishing Area 34 (mid-Shelburne County to Digby) were asked the question on a ballot in June. Lobstermen were asked if they wanted to keep the season opener on the last Monday in November or delay the opening by three days or by one week. Some 53.2 per cent voted not to delay the start of the next season. Not much lobster fishing is done in late November or December in Nova Scotia except for the southwestern region. Some boats fish actively until January then fish infrequently until April and May. Lobstermen also were asked if they wanted to reduce the usual 375 traps per boat during the first part of the season to 325 or 340 traps. The trap limit would rise to 400 after the first four months of the season. Again, fishermen said no to change, with 69 per cent voting to keep things as they are.

Shrimp licenses may become limited in number In June the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Northern shrimp section voted to explore development of a limited entry license system for the fishery in the future. This past winter the fishery was closed to all license holders due to historically low stock levels. Although the Northern shrimp fishery currently is managed by setting a total allowable catch for each season, it remains an open access fishery which has experienced significant ups and down in the number of license holders during the past three decades. This open access, coupled with continued concern about the health of the stock, prompted the action on the part of the section. A limited entry program will consider what the appropriate number of license holders should be based on biological, environmental, and economic considerations. The Northern Shrimp Section will meet in the fall to review the results of the 2014 Northern shrimp stock assessment update and to consider measures for the 2015 fishery.

Funding limits shellfish testing in Maine In an effort to prioritize the state’s red tide testing program, Maine fishery officials have prohibited harvesting mussels and European oysters along most of the coast between New Hampshire and Canada. The widespread closure does not reflect a large outbreak of red tide, also known as paralytic shellfish poisoning, according to Kohl Kanwit, director of public health for Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR). The state has closed most of the coast to mussel and European oyster harvesting so it can focus its efforts on testing clams. Kanwit said there are several reasons for the change in the testing program. Widespread outbreaks of red tide along Maine’s coast in 2008 resulted in the state receiving federal relief funds to test for the toxin. That money ran out last year which has forced DMR to reconsider how to allocate its red tide testing funds. Maine’s annual softshell clam harvest is several times more valuable than its mussel landings — $16.9 million versus $2.3 million in 2013 — so DMR decided it would be more cost effective to focus the department’s limited testing resources on clams. West of Stonington, areas that are closed to mussel and European oyster harvesting also are closed to harvesting surf or hen clams and carnivorous snails. All the closures for mussels, European oysters, surf or hen clams and carnivorous snails are expected to remain in effect through the end of August. There is no ban on the harvesting of American oysters, which are the predominant species cultivated by oyster aquaculture growers in Maine, Kanwit said.

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