The MLA Pushes NMFS For More Herring Quota in 2019

In late October, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) sent a letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) strongly urging it to use its discretion to set the 2019 Atlantic herring quota above the level recommended by the New England Fishery Management Council (Council).
The MLA urged NMFS to use the same methodology that the agency used for the 2018 in-season quota adjustment. In doing so, the agency would keep the probability of overfishing below 50%, but above the 15% recommended by the Council in order to give the lobster industry an additional year to prepare for reduced herring landings.
The MLA stated, “The Council’s recommendation is estimated to result in an overall quota of just 14,558 metric tons, a devastating 71% reduction of the NMFS-adjusted quota for 2018. The impact of losing nearly 78 million pounds of herring from the bait supply in one year will, in and of itself, be devasting to Maine’s lobster industry. The fact that we are losing fish that are locally landed in Maine and New England ports during peak lobster fishing season will certainly exacerbate the blow. The Maine lobster industry needs much more time to identify alternative sources of bait, coordinate bait distribution and grow infrastructure and storage capacity.”
The MLA noted that the Council did not analyze the significant negative economic impacts that this magnitude quota cut would have on the lobster fishery. The wide-ranging impacts that Maine lobstermen will actually experience next year will be far more dire than anything contemplated by fishery managers.
The MLA also urged NMFS to portion the 2019 quota using the Area sub-allocations used in 2018, placing more fish in Area 1A. Area 1A directly provides bait to the lobster fishery and would, in turn, match herring landings with the lobster fishery’s time of peak demand. The MLA stated, “Having the greatest proportion of the 2019 quota landed from Area 1A would be one way to address the needs of the bait market and help lobstermen cope with the drastic quota reductions proposed for 2019.”
The MLA also informed NMFS of reports from many Downeast lobstermen of an abundance of small herring seen while fishing and in the bait supply from Canada. This indicates a strong presence of juvenile herring in this region, which seems to contradict the findings of the herring stock assessment. The letter stated, “Given the importance of the herring fishery to the lobster industry, the MLA strongly supports an interim herring assessment before the 2020 specifications are set in order to fully understand the number of juvenile herring actually present in the fishery.”
The MLA urged NMFS to use its flexibility to spread the impact of the quota reduction beyond 2019 to allow Maine’s lobster industry additional time to prepare and respond, noting that the impact of implementing the Council’s recommendations would be devastating for Maine’s lobstermen and the small communities that they support.