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Fisheries Council Experts Meet to Consider Herring Trawler Issues
07/28/2010 5:37 PM ET   Reported By: Tom Porter

Fisheries experts have been meeting today to discuss efforts made by a group of mid-coast ground fishermen to stop herring trawlers from dragging their nets through protected groundfish spawning areas. The New England Fisheries Management Council is currently in discussion related to efforts by the Midcoast Fishermen's Association to restrict the activity of so-called mid-water trawlers. This comes a week after a US magistrate ordered federal regulators to reconsider the issue.

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Fisheries experts met in Portland yesterday to consider a range of factors affecting the herring fishery - including the controversial issue of herring trawlers operating in groundfish spawning areas.

The meeting comes a week after a federal magistrate ordered regulators at the National Marine Fisheries Service, or 'Nimfs', to revisit a decision made 3 years ago to deny a petition groundfishermen that's trying to prevent herring trawlers from dragging their nets through areas that are closed to groundfish to allow the stock to rebuild.

The ground fishermen are concerned about 'bycatch' - where the nets used by herring trawlers also catch significant numbers of haddock and other groundfish.

U.S. Magistrate John Facciola last week gave a possible boost to the ground fishermen's lawsuit when he ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service needed to give a better explanation of why it rejected their petition, or to re-examine the issue altogether.

While this week's meeting of the New England Fisheries Management Council's Herring Oversight Committee is not directly related to the court order, the committee's findings will most likely be closely studied by NIMFS as it decides how to proceed, says Roger Fleming - the attorney representing the Midcoast Fishermen in their lawsuit.

He's referring here to the Magnusson-Stevens Act of 1976 which sought to reform the US fishing industry.

"Nimfs' view of how the Magnusson act works is that in order to make a big policy change like the midcoast fishermen are seeking, it should go through the council process first because it's a representative body and it's frankly their view of how the law works best," said Fleming.

The committee last night voted to reject an amendment that Fleming says would effectively have taken off the table any option to ban midwater trawlers from the groundfish-closed areas in their hunt for herring - which, among other things is used as bait by lobstermen.

This was a relief to committee member and working groundfisherman Glen Libby of the Midcoast Fishermen's Association, who feels all vessels should be kept out of the protected spawning grounds.

"We just had a debate about closed areas - river herring hot spots - and if that would have become rule, I wouldn't have any qualms about all types of fishing being allowed there, including groundfish, herring, shrimp, you name it, and I feel the same way about groundfish-closed areas - closed should be closed," said Libby.

Not all members of the Herring Oversight Committee though are in favor of keeping herring trawlers out of groundfish-protected areas.

"Our lobster community needs bait and we need to be able to fish and there are rules in place to protecf other species and allow the fishery to happen," said Mary Beth Tooley from Camden Maine. She is worried about impact restrictions would have on the herring fleet. Furthermore, she says, concerns over bycatch have been addressed for at least groundfish species.

"We had an issue with haddock bycatch, that species has rebounded. The council took action to address that," Tooley said. "We've addressed the biological mortatlity issues for haddock."

The Herring Oversight Committee will meet again in early September, when it plans to consider further alterations to its policy recommendations for the Herring fishery.



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