From the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance...
CHATHAM - Captain Bruce Peters is looking forward to some chubbier tuna.
"The tuna that are here are skinny. They look like pickerel. They aren't fat and round."
Fatter trophy fish, and a healthier ecosystem overall, are in the offing if the public steps up to support recently approved regulations.
"After 10 years of debate, the New England Fishery Management Council has finally accepted the proposals favored by Cape communities and what would keep midwater trawls off our coast year round. It will have benefits for all our commercial and recreational fisheries and the nearshore ecosystem," said John Pappalardo, chief executive officer of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance.
The protections were vetted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and were recently published on the Federal Register for final comment.
"This is it," said Pappalardo. "We need people to speak out for herring one more time to make sure these important rules become a reality."
Late last year, after comments from hundreds of groups and individuals across the peninsula - environmental organizations to charter boat captains to the Cape's legislative delegation - the fishery council adopted rules that would push boats that tow nets the size of football fields out of inshore waters. The industrial-scale vessels that are known to catch everything in their path with their fine-mesh nets would be required to stay at least 12 miles offshore and 20 miles off the Cape's backshore, a particularly vulnerable area.
"The Council recommended the proposed inshore midwater trawl restricted area to minimize local depletion and user group conflict when midwater trawl vessels harvesting herring overlap with other user groups (i.e., commercial fisheries, recreational fisheries, ecotourism) that rely on herring as forage and provide inshore conservation benefits. The Council focused on midwater trawl gear to mitigate potential negative socioeconomic impacts on other user groups in response to short duration, high volume herring removals by midwater trawl vessels that are relatively more mobile and capable of fishing in offshore areas than vessels using other gear types," the document states.
Catch limits to protect ocean herring, which are a forage species for a variety of species, including whales and birds, were also put in place. The changes are expected to have legion benefits because herring sit at the bottom of the food chain. Commercial fishermen have been asking for protections for years as they have seen populations of traditional species, such as cod, decline. The new rules are also expected to help river herring, which often school with their ocean cousins.
"Pushing these guys offshore is a good thing," Peters, of Orleans, said. "Herring is a forage species, you should have strict limits on what you can take. Without herring you don't have haddock, whales, stripers, tuna, cod, dogfish, everything eats (them). It is the staff of life in the ocean."
To comment click here or via mail: Michael Pentony, Regional Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. Mark the outside of the envelope, "Comments on Herring Amendment 8"by October 21.
Written by Doreen Leggett, Community Journalist and Communications Director for Cape Cod Commerical Fishermen's Alliance.