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Offshore herring spawning closures under consideration by NEFMC

In September the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) initiated a framework action to amend its Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan in order to protect spawning herring offshore in Herring Management Areas 1B, 2 and 3. The framework action is part of the NEFMC’s efforts to protect spawning herring on Georges Bank. In preparation for this action, the Council contracted with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) in May to interview industry participants and to review historical and current scientific research and previous management actions in the region. Drawing on data from Maine and Massachusetts, GMRI identified where important spawning areas were most likely to occur. Herring fishermen, however, noted that herring spawning areas tend to be too variable to lock down specific locations and periods in any given year.

Protecting offshore spawning herring is a Council priority in 2020. MLMC photo.

The Council reviewed a working draft of the resulting discussion document which indicated that more data were needed to evaluate the various alternatives for the framework action. Portside sampling will be considered, as well as enhanced collection of spawning data by the at-sea monitoring program. The document also noted that the herring stock is currently at low abundance; therefore, research conducted now may not be representative of spawning behavior when the herring population is larger. The Council voted that a range of alternatives be developed and analyzed, including spawning closures around the northern flank of Georges Bank, west of the Great South Channel, and along the northern edge of Georges Bank; spawning closure durations during September and October of 4 weeks, 6 weeks or 8 weeks; restrictions on all gear types fishing for herring or all vessels possessing more than 2,000 pounds of herring. The Council will be analyzing these alternatives throughout 2020.

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