Session Topic

March 28- Herring and mackerel mid-water trawl fishery

Click here to read the themes raised by the panel discussion on March 28th


  • Gib Brogran, Ocean Advocate, Oceana
  • Robert Fitzpatrick, East Coast Tuna Association
  • Lew Flagg, Retired Assistant Administrator, Maine Dept. of Marine Resources & former member of the New England Fishery Management Council
  • Mary Beth Tooley, Executive Director of the East Coast Pelagic Association

Background lecture: Food webs and human roles in shaping ecosystems; end run: the role of non-governmental efforts and cooperative partnerships in resolving conflict

A fleet of boats targeting herring and mackerel in the Gulf of Maine uses mid-water trawl nets so large some must be towed by a pair of vessels. This fishery has come under attack in the last couple of years from several fronts. This fishery often has a large by-catch of juvenile haddock, a species that is slowly recovering from a crash and is supposed to be under tight management by federal fisheries policy. Whale scientists and whale-watch operators have reported changes in the distribution of some whales that eat herring and mackerel; some attribute these changes in distribution to the trawlers’ impacts on the prey fish population. Fishermen who target Atlantic bluefin tuna say that bluefin are smaller, less numerous, and less fat and healthy than they were a decade ago because herring and mackerel—main prey items with lots of fat—are more scarce. The herring fishery supplies bait for the economically and culturally important New England lobster fishery. During the summer of 2005, a coalition of representatives from the various interest groups got together to propose changes in herring management that would help satisfy many of these concerns. The New England Fishery Management Council considered and then rejected their proposal. A new set of restrictions on the herring fishery went into effect this winter. Representatives from several camps will make up this panel.


Pauly, Daniel and Maclean, Jay. “Chapter 2: The Decline of North Atlantic Fisheries and Chapter 3: How Did We Get Here?” in In a Perfect Ocean: The State of Fisheries and Ecosystems in the North Atlantic Ocean. Island Press, 2003. Non-science-oriented students might want to skim technical passages. Pay special attention to the discussions about changes in food chains and the differences among large-scale and small-scale fisheries.


Coalition for the Atlantic Herring Fishery's Orderly, Informed, and Responsible Long-Term Development:

New England Fishery Management Council's press release on most recent decision on Amendment 1 of the Herring Fishery Management Plan:

Oceana's page on their Atlantic Herring campaign:

Final Report of the Joint Atlantic States FMC/ New England FMC Herring Advisory Panel Meeting on October 26, 2005. Most of our panelists attended this meeting, and skimming this document will give you a taste of the issues and concerns raised by each stakeholder group and the tenor of the debates among them:

Northern Pelagic Group, LLC, website of a large mackerel and herring processor with some industry information:

Additional resources:

If you would like to read alternative perspectives to those expressed by Drs. Pauly and Maclean in the assigned reading, you may want to read some of Nils Stolpe’s critiques of current fisheries science, the Pew Commission, and environmental advocates in the series of essays called FishNet USA (

Teacher resources:

“Is the Environment in Deep Water? Exploring Natural and Human Threats on Fresh Water and Marine Ecosystems.”New York Times Daily Lesson Plan, Tuesday, November 30, 1999 by Alison Zimbalist, The New York Times Learning Network

“Conflicts of Current Interest: Analyzing Conflicts in News from Around the Globe Using Conflict Resolution Techniques.” (Note: Consider adapting to a conflict over marine resources) New York Times Daily Lesson Plan, August 29, 2001 by Annissa Hambouz, The New York Times Learning Network, and Javaid Khan, The Bank Street College of Education in New York City


Themes from the March 28th session on Herring Mid-water Trawl Fisheries

At each session, we note themes arising in the panel discussion in four categories: problem definition, goals (individual, organizational and for the process itself), sources of conflict, and potential solutions. The list is meant to aid in further discussion on the topic and is not meant to be exhaustive or definitive. Themes were noted by Saving Seas instructor Tora Johnson drawing upon her notes on the discussion.

Parties feel disadvantaged in the process
Opposition to change
Changes in distribution of fish in Gulf of Maine
Nobody agrees on what the problem is
Allowing problems to grow too large before addressing them
Shortage of scientific data and reduced observer coverage
Boats in fishery concentrated on inshore fishery, leading to conflict

Limiting access to the fishery to protect the resource
Limiting by-catch of haddock
Protecting habitat
Respond to public pressure over herring trawl fisheries

Sources of Conflict
Lack of scientific data
Disagreement over available science
Disagreement over impacts of gear types on herring concentrations
Focus on different scales (scale framing)
Disagreement about ideal efficiency--should the fishery be required to be less efficient?
Politicized climate
Disagreement over effectiveness of council process
Council process doesn’t provide forum for effective problem-solving

Get fisheries observers on trawlers and seiners
More science
Better understanding and possible additional regulation of gear types in herring fishery
New forums for problem-solving
Get more stakeholders involved in council process

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