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.

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.

March 9, 2012 Document

Herring A4 Decision Kessler

US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler has found that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has failed to stem the decline of Atlantic river herring and shad populations due to the overfishing by the New England industrial fishing fleet.