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Stopping Herring Trawlers From Harming New England Groundfish

A mid-water trawler.

A mid-water trawler.

Caleb Gilbert / NOAA

What’s at Stake

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


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.

Case ID



Midcoast Fishermen's Association

Case Updates

October 25, 2013 | In the News: Morning Sentinel

Herring Protection Plan Rejected by Federal Regulators

A plan to protect Atlantic herring from independent catch observers was rejected by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Observers spoon herring out of the sea by the thousands, and other critical marine life is harmed during the process.

Roger Fleming, of the environmental legal group Earthjustice noted, "This is fairly absurd, even by government standards.”

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.

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 | Legal 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.