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THE FISH EVERYONE WANTS

The allocation of herring remains a bone of contention in New England. In this article, the second in our series on herring, Landings looks at the efforts made by state regulators to ensure that the inshore herring fishery continues into the fall months. It’s been an anxious month for Maine’s lobstermen. High season in the lobster fishery has arrived and for many lobstermen, all they can think about is bait. Herring bait, to be exact. The traditional bait for most lobstermen along the coast is a highly managed species and this summer stretching the landings of herring has been foremost in state and regional managers’ minds. And for some lobstermen, particularly those in the smaller harbors, getting enough bait has been a cause of concern. The Allocation of Herring: The ocean may look open and unencumbered by boundaries but in fact, the Gulf of Maine is divided by law into four distinct areas when it comes to herring: Area 1A inshore Gulf of Maine, Area 1B offshore Gulf of Maine, Area 2 south coastal area, and Area 3 Georges Bank. In Area 1A, the year-long fishery is divided into trimesters, from January 1 to May 31, June 1 to September 30, and October 1 to December 31. A specific percentage of the annual catch limit (ACL) for herring is allocated to each trimester. For the 2016-2018 fishing years, the allocation of herring to Area 1A is 66.79 million pounds (30,295 metric tons); 72.8% of that allocation can be caught between June 1 and September 30; 27.2% can be caught from October 1 to December 31. In addition, mid-water trawling for herring is prohibited in Area 1A from June 1 to September 30 when only vessels rigged for purse seining may harvest the fish. Although lobstermen increasingly fish throughout the year, the bulk of the catch landed in Maine comes in the later summer and fall months. Thus the demand for herring is greatest from August through November. That time also coincides with the period during which herring gather to spawn along the coast. To ensure that the stock remains healthy, spawning closures go into effect sequentially, from east to west, within Area 1A from August 15 to November 3 this year. These closures designed to protect spawning fish further limit fishing opportunities at a time when herring are in high demand. Furthermore, herring schools often share the same deep water locations as groups of haddock. The total allowable catch of haddock, like that of other groundfish in the Gulf of Maine, has been steadily reduced in recent years in order to build the stocks. Currently, herring fishermen are allowed just 1% of the haddock caught on Georges Bank as bycatch. Once that percentage is caught by the herring boats, the herring fishery in Area 3 is effectively closed. In 2015, the Area 3 and 1B herring fishery was shut down in late October when the haddock bycatch limit was met. The fishery did not reopen until May 1, 2016, contributing to the ongoing bait shortage this year. This has led to protests from herring fishermen that the bycatch limit too severely restricts their ability to catch herring. Currently, the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) is considering revising that quota, according to Deirdre Boelke, Herring Plan coordinator at the NEFMC. Absence of herring on Georges Bank: It’s a complex management system designed to ensure a smooth flow of herring to lobstermen and other users. But herring don’t obey management systems. This summer herring have not appeared in any great numbers on Georges Bank where they typically are found in June and July. Vessels which normally found herring in abundance were instead finding few herring; and those that they did find have been mixed with haddock. If the nets are set on these fish, they are at risk of moving ever closer to a mandated closure of the area. That scarcity in Area 3 resulted in two large herring trawlers re-rigging for purse seining and moving into Area 1A to fish in June. The F/V Providian and F/V Starlight joined the rest of the purse seiners inshore where large aggregations of the fish could be found. The addition of these boats, and the use of other trawl boats as carriers, meant that the entire quota allocated for Area 1A from June to September 30 could be landed, and landed quickly. “The state could have seen that quota caught in two weeks,” commented Rene Cloutier, deputy chief of the Marine Patrol Bureau in the Department of Marine Resources (DMR). DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher promulgated emergency rules on June 22, July 2 and July 9 to forestall catching the quota before the lobster season moved into full swing. The July 9 rules state that vessels landing herring from Area 1A are limited to fishing on three consecutive days (6 p.m. Saturday to 6 p.m. Tuesday) and landing herring on two consecutive days (from 6 p.m. Sunday to 6 p.m. Tuesday). All vessels are limited to one landing per 24-hour period. All harvester vessels landing herring from Area 1A are subject to a weekly landing limit of no more than 600,000 pounds (15 trucks). Seiners may transfer fish to another vessel, but may only transfer fish to one carrier vessel per week. Vessels operating as harvester vessels may not operate as carrier vessels on the same trip. Additionally, all harvester and carrier vessels must send an email hail to DMR 3 hours prior to landing to report the amount of herring onboard and other information about the fishing trip and where the fish will be landed. “So far it’s going O.K.,” Cloutier said. “Last weekend everyone landed 15 truckloads.” There are just six or seven purse seiners who typically fish during the summer season inshore; the addition of larger vessels has not had serious repercussions, according to Cloutier. “We check on the boats at night and check the carriers. It works real good that they have to hail three hours before coming in. So far there’s been nothing out of the ordinary,” he said. It matters where you live: The possibility that the supply of their prized bait might dwindle down to nothing before the fall season started has caused a lot of anxiety among Maine’s lobstermen, particularly those located in smaller harbors. An employee of C.H. Rich Lobster in Bass Harbor, who did not wish to be named, said that the company has had a very hard time getting a regular supply of fresh herring this summer. “We got herring from William Coffin for years, then we started getting some from Cape Porpoise, pretty much from anyone we could,” the employee said. “Now we get it from Canada because our parent company is Canadian.” C.H. Rich was sold to Les Pecheries de Chez Nous of New Brunswick in 2015, which in turn was recently purchased by Thai Union. Warren Polk, general manager of the Corea Lobster Co-operative, knows that he is not alone in having difficulty securing fresh bait, but that knowledge doesn’t make his job any easier. “I have my lobstermen on a tray limit per day. They supplement with frozen herring. Plus I dried and salted some earlier,” he said. He gets his herring from wherever he can: New England Fish Company and C.B.S. Lobster and Bait in Portland, BBS Lobster Trap in Machiasport and Steuben. The co-op has no freezer and no cooler in which to store bait. “There’s just not enough coming in right now to supply the needs of the lobster industry,” Polk said. Dean Crossman, owner of Little River Lobster in Cutler, hasn’t had trouble getting fresh herring. He’s not happy about the cost, however. “Thankfully, we’ve been able to get it right along, if you want to pay the price,” he said. “The price is a total shock.” He too gets his herring from BBS and although there’s no freezer to store large quantities, the flow has been ample and steady for his lobstermen. “They are just a half hour away and they buy our catch so a truck comes in and then goes out with the lobsters,” he explained. The issue for the Cutler lobstermen, according to Crossman, is that the lobsters are just coming on now. That puts many lobstermen behind in terms of profit because they must spend more money than in prior years on bait. “And you sure can’t set in the spring at this price,” Crossman said.

“Oh yeah, we get herring, but we don’t get as much as we want,” said an employee of the Bremen Lobster Co-operative, who did not wish to be named.The co-op has bought its bait for many years from Purse Line Bait in Sebasco Estates and has no plans to switch to another dealer. “We get what they want to give us,” he said. “We could certainly use more barrels!” Those barrels may have to wait. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted to reduce the landing days for Area 1A from five days to two effective July 24. It was the addition of a menhaden seiner landing herring in Gloucester that prompted ASFMC managers to meet. This action brought New Hampshire and Massachusetts nearer to Maine’s regulations in an effort to prevent vessels landing herring in those states from fishing down the Area 1A quota too quickly. The Commission hopes to extend Area 1A landings into September. And, there was word as this article was going to press that some vessels in Area 3 had found herring in deep water, but in association with schools of haddocks. So what will happen in the fall remains anyone’s guess.

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