Remember river herring? I do.
THIS BLOG ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN SEPTEMBER 2010
Hello Friends & Neighbors,
As most folks here know, I usually like to candidly discuss local government issues in my Wareham Week blog, but for a change, I thought I would share with you all another interest of mine - fishery management.
The following is a copy of my letter to the editor of the New Bedford Standard Times which was published on September 14, 2010.
I thought it may be of interest to some here as well.
Thank you for your time.
Remember river herring?
By MIKE FLAHERTY
New Bedford Standard Times
September 14, 2010
I remember being able to take up to 48 river herring per week from the Middleboro herring run. It was a very well-managed run, as there were upwards of four wardens on hand to ensure folks only took what they were allowed.
I remember taking my 2-year-old son to the run, and he would play with the herring swimming in the bucket as I netted them. I remember giving some to my elderly neighbor who liked to eat them. Most of all, I remember what great bait they were. They don't call them striper candy for nothing.
Ah, the good old days.
So when fishery managers told us that river herring were in really tough shape and needed help, the recreational fishing community in Massachusetts sucked it up as we usually do in such times and said, "OK. Let's give them a break." So we agreed to the state's ban on the possession of river herring. As those involved will remember, the ban meant no possession whatsoever — not on your person, not on your hook, not even leftovers in your freezer from the year before the ban. Zip, zilch, nada, zero!
Prior to Massachusetts, Rhode Island had enacted a similar ban. Connecticut before them. That's what we as conservation-minded recreational fishermen do. We take the long view, sacrificing today for a better tomorrow. At least that's how it is supposed to work.
Unfortunately with river herring management, somehow things got turned upside down on their head. I had no idea at the time that the ban did not apply to commercial fishermen in the sea herring fishery. And I bet the rest of those in New England who supported the river herring bans in their state had no clue either. Now, these days, as I wait year after year for some good news that will allow us to lift the ban, I'm forming a whole different set of memories when it comes to river herring.
I remember learning from Massachusetts state biologist Dr. Mike Armstrong how a single pair trawler could decimate an entire run of river herring while they target sea herring. As Armstrong put it in the Aug. 22, 2004 Standard-Times, "We know that in the winter that, to some degree, the runs stick together and mix it up with the sea herring." Armstrong added, "They are landing 300,000 pounds at a whack. So say that the Mattapoisett River run is 100,000 fish, which is about 50,000 pounds. In theory you could catch an entire run of fish. It could wipe them out."
Despite such facts, I remember any effort to get meaningful observer coverage added to the commercial sea herring fishery thwarted at every turn by hired industry lawyers and lobbyists.
I remember scratching my head at a river herring meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission when the director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, Paul Diodati, explained that there is a 5 percent "batch allowance" for river herring in commercial fisheries. A "batch" could be as small as a tote of lobster bait or as large as a boat's whole hold. The bottom line: Pair trawlers can hold upwards of 1 million pounds of sea herring, which means that it would be perfectly legal if they happened to have 50,000 pounds of river herring in the mix.
I remember thinking that as a recreational fisherman, while I couldn't legally posses a single river herring at all, that 50,000-pound figure above would represent the entire Mattapoisett herring run described by Armstrong. All perfectly legal to wipe out by midwater trawlers. "Theoretically," of course.
I remember when an industry lawyer named Shaun Gehan actually lobbied fishery managers to ensure that loopholes were added to the herring management plan to accommodate his clients' needs.
I remember most recently how the state of Maine's councilor on the New England Fishery Management Council, Mary Beth Tooley, saw no problem with the fact that not only do her boats catch river herring, but that she objects to the term "bycatch." After all, according to Tooley, who works for numerous midwater trawler interests, river herring caught in the sea herring fishery are "incidental catch" that are currently not being discarded, but rather kept and sold.
Do you remember the last time you were able to keep a single river herring for yourself, never mind sell one for use as lobster bait?
In the coming weeks, fishery managers will be weighing their options on actually getting real when it comes to monitoring bycatch in the small-mesh sea herring fishery. Recreational fishermen have been doing our part for years. It is time to close the loopholes and finally mandate the same from industry.