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Steaming Ahead

Out of the frying pan into the fire…. We can now add a pending bait crisis to the list of major issues facing the Maine lobster industry. The MLA has been hard at work informing lobstermen about the possibility of new whale rules, which will be discussed at the Take Reduction Team (TRT) meeting in October. To date, the MLA has convened eight meetings along the coast to update a diverse group of industry leaders about the status of right whales and the pressure facing our industry to implement additional whale protection measures. These meetings have served to begin discussions about the state’s strategy at the fall TRT meeting. The MLA is also working to gain intervener status in the pending court case filed by several environmental groups against NMFS seeking stronger whale protection measures focused on the lobster industry. Ropeless fishing and the use of weak rope are two suggestions being pushed hard by many in the research and conservation communities. The potential for additional whale regulations is certainly one of the most significant issues ever to face Maine lobstermen and it has galvanized the MLA board of directors as well as the Department of Marine Resources. So as the MLA works tirelessly to ensure that Maine’s lobster industry remains intact after this fall, we received devastating (though still preliminary) news that the herring fishery is likely to face drastic cuts in quota beginning in 2019. The news comes as the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) is holding public hearings on Amendment 8 to the herring fishery management plan, which seeks to change how the commercial quota is set. Amendment 8 could ultimately result in even steeper reductions in herring quota to account for herring’s role as a prey fish in the marine ecosystem. Amendment 8 also considers options on where the midwater fleet will be allowed to fish in the future.

In early May, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center convened a Northeast Stock Assessment Workshop for Atlantic herring. Over the course of three days, the group conducted modelling work as part of a benchmark assessment of the herring resource. The model runs indicate that there are likely to be significant cuts to the herring quota from an Annual Catch Limit (ACL) of over 100,000 metric tons in 2018 down to 30,000 metric tons or less in 2019. The stock has gone from a historic high, which was driven by a few very strong year classes of fish, to a stock decline, due to the more recent spate of poor year classes of herring. The possible quota cuts are a result of too few young herring coming into the stock and are not the result of overfishing. Since the herring assessment is not yet complete, these findings are preliminary. The preliminary herring assessment and modelling output findings will undergo both an independent peer review and a review by the Science and Statistical Committee. The final results of the herring stock assessment — and ultimately the 2019 herring quota recommendation — will be official in August. To


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