In a move that surprised those present at the New England Fishery Management Council's November meeting, when "final" measures were voted into Amendment 1 for the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan, the Council decided to hold yet another public hearing on the amendment in January and take one more vote before sending the document to NOAA Fisheries for review and implementation.
Pam Lyons Gromen, Fisheries Project Director for the NCMC, returning from the NEFMC meeting held in Portland, Maine on January 31st, was happy to report that Amendment 1 was given final, final approval. The amendment, intended primarily to prevent overcapacity in the herring fishery by establishing a limited access program, will arrive at NOAA Fisheries virtually unaltered from the previously approved version.
Thankfully, the measures that NCMC strongly supported were left intact. Most notably, an ecologically sensitive inshore area in the Gulf of Maine will be closed to mid-water trawlers each year from June-September. In one change, the council endorsed a more liberal set of qualifying dates for those applying for incidental catch permits in the herring fishery. Since there will be limited access to the herring resource after the amendment is enacted, it will be necessary for boats in other fisheries with significant herring bycatch to maintain some type of herring permit in order to utilize their catch.
Although it is unlikely that the entire amendment will be implemented for the 2006 herring fishing season, NCMC has joined with CHOIR (The Coalition for the Atlantic Herring's Orderly, Informed, and Responsible Long-term Development), Oceana and other like-minded groups to encourage the expeditious review and endorsement of the area closure provision in hopes that this critical step for protecting the forage base for predators and the distinct Gulf of Maine herring stock can be put into action for the upcoming herring season.