Big herring catch off New England comes with worries
By Patrick Whittle, The Associated Press
ROCKLAND — A little fish that New Englanders have sought since the Colonial era is at the center of a battle over how to manage massive boats that trawl swaths of ocean off the East Coast.
The catch for the Atlantic herring, which travels in groups sometimes numbering in the billions, is in the midst of a massive boom. Last year fishermen caught more than 95,000 metric tons of the fish for the first time since 2009, federal statistics show.
Now rival fishermen are raising concerns about the high catches, and regulators are starting to consider whether the big haul is adversely affecting the environment, marine mammals or other fisheries.
Herring trawlers have the ability to deplete localized areas of other fish, in part because the hulking boats leave pieces of ocean bereft of the herring that other species rely on for food, say some fishermen of species such as cod and tuna.
Steve Weiner, a tuna fisherman based in Ogunquit, said the high herring catches need a hard look because of the fish’s status as a linchpin of the Atlantic Ocean’s food web. Everything from seabirds to whale-watching boats rely on a steady supply of herring for stability, he said.
The issue is particularly concerning for Cape Cod fishermen, many of whom are struggling to make a living in a time of strict cod quotas, Weiner said.
“You have to worry about all the other people who depend on healthy herring resources,” he said. “When you get down to the Cape, it’s raw, real.”
But some herring fishermen dismiss those complaints as nonsense and reference federal studies that describe the species as “not overfished.”