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Net Tightens Around New England Herring Trawlers

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View Raviya Ismail's blog posts
21 July 2010, 2:05 PM
Earthjustice actions improve odds against fish slaughter

If you Google an image of a herring midwater trawler, you see a well-equipped large fishing ship. What you may not see are the massive nets that drag behind such ships - meant to capture anything in their path. No wonder local fishermen in Massachusetts are having a hard time competing. Most of their catch is being scooped up by these nets.

Well, today (7/21) Earthjustice scored big—three times over—in the struggle to keep trawling ships from continuing to deplete fisheries of groundfish (including cod, haddock, flounder and sole).

Earthjustice represented fisherman Patrick Paquette in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service which for months refused to release a public video of footage aboard trawl ships. The video is important because it showcases the flaws in NMFS's current monitoring system (but more on that later). On Monday a judge approved a final settlement between Paquette and NMFS and officially released the video.

On that same day, a federal magistrate judge ruled in Earthjustice's favor and ordered NMFS to reconsider its rejection of a petition by New England fishermen to stop these herring trawl ships from decimating groundfish in sanctuaries designed for their protection.

The petition was filed by Earthjustice in 2007 on behalf of groundfish fishermen seeking to exclude the ships from designated areas of the ocean that are nursery grounds for New England's legendary - but severely depleted - groundfish populations.

And finally, Earthjustice reached a settlement with NMFS on a controversial rule that contained an illogical loophole favoring herring midwater trawl ships. The rule had strict guidelines that the ships must follow to protect crucial groundfish nursery areas southeast of Cape Cod, in technical speak this region is known as Closed Area 1.

The loophole would have allowed catch to be dumped before federal observers could inspect it. It's a contradiction of the original rule and begs the question: how would the agency keep track of the number of fish being caught? Well, now NMFS has agreed to re-propose the rule, complete with a public comment period, giving fishermen like Captain Peter Taylor, Bob St. Pierre and Stuart Tolley (we represented them in our lawsuit) a chance to be heard.

Earthjustice Attorney Roger Fleming said:

We are confident that once NMFS hears from New England fishermen, other experts, and the public they will agree that there is no need to include such a gaping loophole and that everything caught in midwater trawl ship nets can—and must—be brought aboard to be documented

Well done! Thank you very much for professional templates and community edition

The loophole would have allowed catch to be north face outlet dumped before federal observers could inspect it. It's a contradiction of the original rule and begs the question: how would the agency the north face outlet keep track of the number of fish being caught?

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you people are all out off your minds not only is trawling for herring very efficient but its one of the cleanest fishing

I represent fishermen in Eastern Canada. Several years ago we mounted a battle against our Fed. Dept of Fisheries and Oceans to stop mid-water trawlers from catching herring. It was unbelievable that our Fed. Fish Dept was giving the green light for this venture considering that the cod fishery was closed due to this type of fishing. Our fishermen still fish herring using seine and gillnet. The term mid-water is a misnomer,,,any fisherman will tell you that the warps are easily adjusted to allow the trawl to skim the surface or down hard on bottom.
For the sake of your fishery keep these vessels from exploiting your biomass, because they are a mean fish-killing machine and they are unselective in what they catch. I've equated mid-water trawling to shooting fish in a barrel with a machine gun, the fish have nowhere they can hide.

Thank you Mr. Fraser and Mr. Bakey for pointing out our mistake. We have replaced the prior photo that appeared here with a photo of a current New England midwater trawler.

As you must be aware, the so called "midwater" trawl ships that fish in New England are the largest fishing vessels on the east coast, stretching up to 165 feet in length. They often fish in pairs by stringing enormous nets between both vessels to increase their fishing power. Such "pair-trawling" has been banned in most other fisheries around the world. One of these ships alone can catch hundreds of thousands of pounds of fish in a single tow of its net and can carry over one million pounds of fish on board. Thus, one of these vessels in a single tow can catch more fish than any fisherman from the Midcoast Fishermen's Association catches in a year. In addition, especially when multiple pairs of these vessels fish together as they often do, this fishery can deplete entire areas of the ocean of fish and other marine animals. This is not just because of their bycatch of groundfish but also because the herring that is the most important food source for most of New England's ocean predators including grounfish, striped bass, tuna, whales, seabirds and a whole host of other species. In fact, Massachusetts Atlantic herring fixed gear and river herring fishermen filed a brief in the Midcoast Fishermen's closed area case because they have been driven out of business by the midwater trawlers.

Finally, your comment correctly alludes to one of the biggest problems with this fishery—the Fisheries Service's failure to adequately monitor the fishing activities of this fleet of vessels. Nonetheless, the data that is available indicates that significant amount of groundfish and many other species are scooped up as bycatch. As documented in the court's decision, thepPetition that was the subject of the Midcoast Fishermen's suit, for example, showed that the Fisheries Service's enforcement office caught one vessel alone attempting to land nearly 50,000 pounds of juvenile groundfish. A tragedy that they were never allowed to grow to maturity to help rebuild the groundfish fishery. The groundfishery is also currently wrestling with reports of significant levels of groundfish bycatch being caught in "Closed Area II" much as it did in 2008 in Closed Area I. As was clearly signaled by Jude Facciola in his opinion this week, any objective view of the current estimates of bycatch by NMFS indicates they are unreliable and the problem is much greater than limited data collected to date indicates.


Maybe the SMALL MESH fleet shouldn't be able to fish in critical areas.However,it also isn't right to misrepresent the size of the vessels to your readers.Using an old foreign trawler picture [for obvious shock value] isn't being truthful ,either.

Thanks for pointing out our error. We've replaced the foreign trawler photo with one of a trawler off Maine.

Earthjustice argues against the size of the herring trawlers because it lacks the data to condemn the fishery for any other reason.
It tries to build an emotional case against the fishery with a photo of a large vessel; as it happens the boat depicted is far too large and powerful to qualify for the New England herring fishery.
Environmental groups bring a lot to the table when they constructively engage on bycatch reduction and other issues, but apparently that is not going to be the case here.
If the herring fishery were an individual, Earthjustice's assertion that "most" of the catch of New England groundfishermen was being "scooped up" by herring boats would be libelous.

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