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Fisheries council balks at ban on herring trawling

November 21, 2013

NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) — Herring trawlers can continue to work New England waters after regional fishery managers declined Wednesday to ban the big vessels, which can accidentally catch the haddock prized by other fishermen.

Meeting in Newport, the New England Fishery Management Council balked at a proposal supported by haddock fishermen that would have temporarily banned so-called mid-water herring trawlers until the vessels have full-time, independent observers to monitor the catch. The proposed ban would have required the approval of federal regulators.

Several council members said that while they appreciate the problem, they weren’t willing to impose an emergency ban. They vowed to continue to study the best ways of regulating trawlers, large vessels that sometimes scoop up other fish like haddock in their search for herring.

When a herring trawler does catch haddock, the fish is often either discarded or used as bait. And if the accidental haddock catch is acknowledged, it’s counted against federal fishing limits — meaning there’s less fish for haddock boats. But there’s disagreement between herring and haddock fishermen as to the size of the problem.

David Gelfman, who runs a fishing vessel out of Chatham, Mass., said he was fishing Georges Bank a month ago and saw schools of juvenile haddock swimming near herring trawlers. He said he worries they were caught and discarded.

“We live in an age where we need to target and catch only what we’re trying to catch,” he said.

Herring fishermen said they already work to limit the haddock they catch and say the proposed restrictions would have devastated their business. Several trawler captains told the council Wednesday that they would support having full-time observers on board — but there’s so far no plan to pay for them.

“This would seriously threaten the ability of our industry,” said Jeff Kaelin of Lund’s Fisheries, Inc. of Cape May, N.J., which operates herring vessels. “We pose no threat. We don’t want to catch haddock.”

The fight between herring and haddock fishermen has gone on for years. Earlier this year, a proposal from the council to require independent catch observers aboard every trawler was rejected by federal regulators.

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