The Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance in action

First published in Landings, January, 2013.

The Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance (MLCA) is managing an inshore herring acoustic survey, undertaken with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in 2012. The pilot year of the project ended in 2012.

Each transect conducted by lobstermen participating in the herring survey was approximately 60 miles, encompassing 4,140 over the three months of the project. GMRI illustration.

Each transect conducted by lobstermen participating in the herring survey was approximately 60 miles, encompassing 4,140 over the three months of the project. GMRI illustration.

From September to November last year, ten lobster boats from throughout the coast conducted weekly surveys of Atlantic herring populations found in the nearshore waters of the Gulf of Maine. Atlantic herring are at the center of the Gulf of Maine’s ecological and economic food webs. They are the dominant forage fish in the region and account for nearly three-quarters of the bait used by Maine’s lobster industry. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has not surveyed inshore herring populations for many years. Without accurate knowledge about inshore abundance, scientists cannot accurately assess overall herring stock health. The data gathered through this survey could influence future herring stock assessments and hence, overall quota allocations.

The MLCA recruited ten lobstermen, from Cutler to York, to take part in the project. Each man’s lobster boat was outfitted with a through-hull Simrad ES-70 echosounder, computer and other equipment. For three months, the participants followed a pre-determined track during over night hours once a week, collecting data on herring stocks for an eight-hour period. The tracks generally ran from close to shore out to the 50 fathom mark. A total of 69 individual surveys were completed this fall. Each transect covered 60 miles, totaling 4,140 miles covered during those three months.

“Overall, the first year went really well. The dedication of each of the lobstermen was amazing,” said Curt Brown, a research technician at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and a southern Maine lobsterman.

“My personal experience was that doing the survey was something totally new to me. Over the seven surveys that I did it was interesting to see how schools of herring changed. One particularly large school off Cape Small was there the first three weeks of the survey and then in the next couple weeks it started to get smaller and smaller until by the end of the survey it was gone,” he said.

The transducers use sonar to bounce a sound wave off a school of fish. The sound wave can tall a reader if the school is made up of herring or another Gulf of Maine species. Image courtesy of Curt Brown.

The transducers use sonar to bounce a sound wave off a school of fish. The sound wave can tall a reader if the school is made up of herring or another Gulf of Maine species. Image courtesy of Curt Brown.

Patrice McCarron, president of the MLCA, explained that the project uses relatively low-cost equipment to gather high quality data that corresponds with that collected by NMFS offshore acoustic survey. “The NOAA offshore acoustic survey is in Area 3. The fact that they have the same equipment on their boat helps in making the data from both inshore and offshore closer to apples-to-apples. They can correlate it.” McCarron said that she was very happy with the results of this pilot year and looks forward to data gathered in future years. “The scope of our surveys, their frequency, and the data that we were able to get are truly remarkable in terms of achievement, and very cost effective when compared to research cruise type of model,” she said.