The Atlantic Herring Section has released Draft Amendment 3 to the Interstate Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for public comment. Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, and possibly the states of Rhode Island through New Jersey, will be conducting public hearings on the Draft Amendment this summer. The details of these hearings will be released as soon as they become finalized.

Draft Amendment 3 was initiated to strengthen spawning sea herring protections in Area 1A (inshore Gulf of Maine) and address concerns raised by the commercial Atlantic herring industry. The Draft Amendment proposes (1) changing the spawning monitoring program (default start dates, area boundaries, and length of the closure period); (2) removing the fixed gear set-aside rollover provision, and (3) requiring a vessel’s fish hold to be emptied before leaving on a fishing trip. The empty fish hold provision is also being addressed by the New England Fishery Management Council under Framework Adjustment 4 to the Federal Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Herring.

The Commission’s Plan Development Team conducted a review of the current spawning monitoring program and recommended new tools and adjustments to improve protection for spawning fish. The review revealed spawning events occur at different times each year and typically last six weeks. Therefore, a modification to the spawning protection program would be appropriate to protect the herring resource. The suite of options include a new forecast system to allow fisheries biologists to pool samples of herring from Maine and Massachusetts and project the date of peak spawning. A range of options for adjusting the default closure start dates are based on analysis of spawning data from the past decade, and provides flexibility in the proportion of spawning fish protected. The Draft Amendment proposes merging the Western Maine (WM) and Massachusetts-New Hampshire (MA-NH) spawning areas because there have been no significant differences in the starting dates of spawning events. Lastly, an option proposes to extend the closure period in MA-NH (or WM-MA-NH) to six weeks reflecting the current characteristics of the rebuilt herring population, which is characterized by a broader age class structure and longer overall spawning season since the current spawning program was developed.

At the request of the fishing industry, the Draft Amendment also includes options to remove the fixed gear set-aside provision and establish a requirement for empty fish holds. Currently, 295 mt is set-aside for the fixed gear fishery in Area 1A until November 1, after which the remaining set-aside is made available to all Area 1A gear types. Maine fixed gear fishermen have requested access to the set-aside until the overall total allowable landings limit has been harvested. Draft Amendment 3 also includes a proposal to establish a requirement for fish holds to be empty of fish prior to trip departures. Members of industry initiated the empty fish hold provision because it would prevent mixing of catch from multiple trips, which can improve accounting of catch and bycatch. In addition, the provision could encourage less wasteful fishing practices by creating an incentive to catch amounts of herring as demanded by markets.

Fishermen and other interested groups are encouraged to provide input on the Draft Amendment either by attending state public hearings or providing written comment. The Draft Amendment can be obtained at Public comment will be accepted until 5:00 PM (EST) on July 24, 2015 and should be forwarded to Toni Kerns, ISFMP Director, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or at [email protected] (Subject line: Draft Amendment 3). For more information, please contact Toni Kerns, ISFMP Director, at [email protected] or 703.842.0740.