Little fish, big problems

If the federal government (by way of the council) sees fit to put observers on every boat and every trip, then so be it. Perhaps the data collected would be worth the trouble. But the federal government ought to pony up the dough to pay for the extra oversight.

However, the real question in my mind is why the midwater fleet is taking so much heat? They are being blamed for damage to groundfish spawning areas and scooping up Gulf of Maine river herring as bycatch.

I attended a presentation at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute last night that addressed the river herring bycatch part of the problem. Mike Armstrong from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, last night’s speaker, has been studying East Coast river herring for five years.

What he and fellow researchers have discovered is that the decline in river herring was sparked many years before the midwater fleet began fishing and in fact has no single smoking gun.

A long list of contributing factors includes, dams, waterfront development, human and animal predation (including species we now protect, like cormorants and seals), water withdrawals, deteriorating habitat and water quality, and yes, bycatch.

Bycatch is one of the multitude of problems contributing to a very long-term decline in river herring. And as Armstrong points out, we ought to be applying the same common-sense approach to solving problems associated with fishing as we apply to the problems associated with development.

We are not going to try to end housing development, so why are we toying with the idea of dealing a crippling blow to the midwater fleet?

Bycatch is not destroying river herring. No one thing is. Our approach should be to limit destructive influences from all contributing factors without the goal of shutting down successful American businesses.

We ought to turn our focus away from the midwater fleet and toward the river herring. Creating an environment in which the herring can thrive is more worthwhile than creating an environment in which an entire fleet cannot.

River herring will survive, as recent upticks in their population have shown. But the midwater fleet may not. A fair warning to those who cheer that possibility: Next time, it might be your livelihood on the chopping block.

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