In support of herring, a surprising contribution

Mar 26, 2024 | Over the Bar

Over the Bar

Christopher Seufert photo

By John Pappalardo

We are neck-deep in the fight to protect herring, a crucial way to allow the ocean to do what it does so amazingly well: support life with beautiful diversity.

Because a federal judge overturned regulations that would have kept large trawlers off our coast, we have mustered for yet another lengthy public hearing process to make sure that ocean herring get a fighting chance to return to health. At the same time, with the same advocacy, we can protect river herring that want to come up our freshwater runs every spring, an ancient right of passage many of our towns have worked hard and invested public funds to encourage.

Public hearings to let federal officials know how passionate we are about this effort are wrapping up now; written comments will continue to be accepted through the morning of April 30. If you’d like to offer your thoughts, please do.

And if you need some context or talking points take a look here.

Meanwhile, because this issue has been so much on our minds, a stray, futuristic thought arose:

There’s been so much talk of late about Artificial Intelligence, AI, the growing capacity for computers to generate material that looks a lot like creative human thinking. I confess to fearing the possibilities, some might say inevitabilities, that AI represents, as well as seeing positive potential. So then came a question:

Suppose we told one of these AI programs to conjure up something about the importance of herring and their restoration; offer a few concepts, buzzwords, a key phrase or two like “Optimal Yield” (the term used to describe the goal of good sustainable fisheries management), and see what emerges from that black box?

Just to make it even more interesting and challenging, suppose we asked this Artificial Intelligence to concoct something in the form of a poem?

Here’s what emerged, courtesy of ChatGPT:

In the waters of New England’s embrace,

A tale unfolds, a somber grace.

Herring fishery, once vibrant and free,

Now whispers a tale of uncertainty.

Herring, a species once so grand,

Now struggling, slipping from our hand.

Overfishing whispers in the breeze,

A cautionary tale on the ocean’s seas.

Quotas set with good intent,

Yet the herring’s plight is evident.

Ecosystems strained, imbalanced plight,

Optimum Yield lost in the fading light.

Fishermen weathering a changing tide,

In the wake of uncertainty, they abide.

Seeking answers in the ocean’s sway,

For a brighter, more sustainable day.

A call to action, a plea to mend,

To find a balance, to transcend.

Restore the waters, let herring thrive,

Revive the tale of Optimum Yield alive.

In New England’s sea, a hope remains,

To heal the losses, break the chains.

May stewardship guide us, hearts revealed,

Towards a future where Optimum Yield is healed.

So let us learn from ocean’s lore,

Of stewardship and something more.

In every harvest, a pledge to shield,

Optimum Yield, our promise sealed.

It’s not pitch perfect, there are weird glitches in the language here and there. But it surely does resonate, and while I hate to admit it, surely is better than I could have done myself, much as I live and breathe the effort.

Here’s the thing, though: AI will not replace our advocacy, and it cannot replace your insights, comments, and support for herring and a healthy ecosystem. The poem is fascinating, but cannot become part of a convincing public record because hey, a computer is not an engaged, persuasive member of our community. That’s your role, our role.

And to state the obvious, one more thing: AI will never replace a vital, small-boat fishing fleet.

John Pappalardo is CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance


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