Stopping Herring Trawlers From Harming New England Groundfish

Overfishing in New England waters has severely depleted populations of cod, haddock and other groundfish.

Regional Office / Program

Case Overview

Overfishing in New England waters has severely depleted populations of cod, haddock and other groundfish. In 1994, nearly all fishing was banned in waters identified as spawning grounds and sanctuaries for these fish.

In 1998, federal regulators reopened these areas to herring mid-water trawlers, on the assumption that the herring ships would catch little or no groundfish in their nets. They were wrong. It’s estimated that these vessels have caught hundreds of thousands of pounds of mature and juvenile groundfish as bycatch.

Earthjustice and a coalition of fishermen filed suit to stop the decimation of these groundfish populations. The suit resulted in new proposed protocols that would require all catch to be brought on board the trawlers and inspected. But the National Marine Fisheries issued a surprise loophole that allowed for the dumping of catch before observers could inspect it. This change was not sent out for public comment and contradicted the original rule, which had received overwhelming public support.

Earthjustice again filed suit and secured a new rule that eliminates the loophole. This change will restore the intent of the original rule to require that all fish be brought on board and accounted for, with limited exceptions for safety and mechanical failure.

A mid-water trawler.
A mid-water trawler. (Caleb Gilbert / NOAA)

Case Updates

August 15, 2013 Article

Troubled Waters for Atlantic Herring

Pity the lowly herring, an essential species getting little love these days from the government agencies that are supposed to protect them.

October 26, 2012 feature

Energy Bars of the Sea

Everything in the ocean is food to something else, a food web comprising many food chains. Earthjustice attorneys are stepping in to help stop the plunder of the ocean’s larders.

The "Sacred Cod".
March 15, 2012 Article

Why The Cod Is Sacred

Over the past few decades, Earthjustice legal victories have been working to shape an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management in New England.