CHATHAM — Until last week, many local fishermen thought the herring problem had been solved.
After nearly a decade of a hard-fought grass-roots campaign to have fishery managers more closely monitor herring — a keystone species in the food chain — a plan finally emerged.
Central to the plan developed last year by the New England Fishery Management Council, was a requirement that all Atlantic herring trips by large vessels, generally more than 100 feet long, be covered by federal observers who would note what was being caught and what was being thrown back.
But last week, the National Marine Fisheries Service disapproved the 100-percent observer coverage requirement as well as two other measures considered by advocates to be vital to protecting herring stocks: a requirement that fish dealers weigh the catch and not use estimates based on volume or other methods, and a limit on the number of times herring fishermen could invoke an emergency clause and dump fish from their nets without them being counted by an observer.
"They basically approved nothing," said a frustrated and angry John Pappalardo, the CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance and a former member and onetime chairman of the New England council.
"They kicked the can down the road," Chatham fisherman John Our said after returning Tuesday from a day's fishing for skates and dogfish.