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NMFS to Repropose Atlantic Herring Fishery Rule

Commercial fishermen have reached an agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) requiring the agency to take public comment and reconsider a controversial loophole that weakens new protocols meant to protect groundfish nursery areas southeast of Cape Cod.

The original NMFS rule outlined new rules that herring midwater trawl ships must follow when fishing in the protected areas, including requirements that every ship have a federal fisheries observer onboard to document the ship’s entire catch. The rule was intended to reduce groundfish bycatch and gather more data about the fishing practices and impacts of midwater trawl vessels.

Though the original rule received overwhelming public support, the loophole inserted in the final rule weakened the new protocols and contradicted the original rule by allowing midwater trawl ships to dump portions of their catch before a federal fisheries observer can document it. The new change was never sent out for public comment.

Earthjustice represented Captain Peter Taylor of Chatham, Mass., along with fellow fishermen Bob St. Pierre and Stuart Tolley, who filed suit in December 2009, asking the court to require NMFS to declare the loophole illegal. The lawsuit cited the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the nation’s fisheries law.

“We are pleased that NMFS has agreed to send the dumping exception out to the public for comment,” said Earthjustice attorney Roger Fleming. “We are confident that once the agency 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.”