The New England Fishery Management Council has voted to protect Atlantic herring from midwater trawl boats in a 12-mile buffer zone that would extend from Maine to the tip of Long Island. The matter has divided fishermen in the region, pitting midwater trawlers who fish herring against small boat fishermen, many of whom work off the Cape and Islands and who catch predator fish that rely on the herring as a food source.
"They’re talking about the socio-economic impact on the midwater trawl fleet, well what about the socio-economic impact on the entire recreational and tourism industry along the Cape and Islands?" Bob DeCosta, a small boat fisherman from Nantucket said. He argued that the council's decision to create a 12-mile buffer zone was lenient, and that he would have preferred more.
"For us, we rely on the herring for our fall and winter forage fish, and with the midwater trawlers, they scoop them all up before they get to Nantucket and we just have no more fishing," he said. "I would have preferred 50 but 12’s a start."
In addition to trawling being a practice that small-boat fishermen argue decimates the herring population, lack of herring closer to shore also means less predator fish - like striped bass and haddock - that rely on herring as a food source. Charlie Dodge, a groundfisherman in Chatham has been fighting for more herring trawler regulations for the past 15 years.
"Basically those few boats have displaced the entire ground fishing league, they’ve put it out of business," he said. "I now fish for skate and dogfish and it’s an uphill battle to try to get enough money off of what we’re catching, so yesterday’s decision was a huge milestone."
Meanwhile, trawlers argued that the new year-round buffer zone puts more restrictions on what they consider to already be a highly regulated sector.
"Because now you also can’t go in this area because there’s a wind farm, you also can’t go in this area over here that’s an exclusion zone, so the question is where can you go fishing?" Megan Lapp, the fisheries liaison for SeaFreeze Limited, a midwater trawling fleet based in Rhode Island asked. "The options become very limited."
Next, the Council's amendment will go for review by the National Marine Fisheries Service, and regulations could be in place as early as next year.