Raising our standards for conserving key prey species means changing our management goal from maximizing yields for commercial fisheries to sharing the resource, in a way that accounts for the vital ecological role of these species as forage for natural predators, while still providing reasonable fishing opportunities.
We congratulate the New England Fishery Management Council for recognizing the need to manage Atlantic herring in an ecosystem context and for responding to the calls of thousands of sport fishermen and many others, a diverse group of stakeholders who urged the Council to consider the importance of herring to the wealth of ocean wildlife that depends on herring as a food source.
A healthy population of herring translates into healthy coastal communities, including other users of the resource — the striped bass, tuna and cod fishermen who rely on a healthy forage base of herring to sustain their target predators — and the ecotourism that count on the presence of herring schools to attract whales and seabirds.
After three years of development, Draft Amendment 8 to the Atlantic Herring Management Plan proposes major advances to the way herring are managed. Options in the draft plan, now out for public comment, are designed to safeguard the herring forage base by preserving an abundance of herring in the water for predators and by protecting vulnerable inshore habitats and predators from concentrated industrial-scale fishing.
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An ongoing Atlantic herring assessment is painting a grim picture of a declining stock with poor recruitment, which could spell trouble well into the future for all who depend on an abundance of herring. The status quo method of establishing herring catch limits is too risky.