Paul Earnshaw, president of the Buckeye Brook Coalition, has issued an appeal to members and those interested in preserving the brook’s herring run to support regulations to measure the numbers of the fish caught by offshore trawlers.
“We have done everything we can from land,” Earnshaw says pointing to the ban on taking the fish as they make their spring spawning runs and the construction of fish ladders or the removal of stream obstructions including dams so as to improve their chances of spawning. Also, he noted the hundreds of millions spent on the combined storm overflow system in Providence to prevent the release of untreated wastewater into the bay during periods of heavy rainfall.
“This is the best opportunity we have ever had to make changes,” Earnshaw argues.
His hope is that 5,000 people send letters or sign petitions to the Mid Atlantic Fisheries Council requiring the fishing industry to record the numbers of herring caught by the July 9 deadline for public comment. The council is in the process of considering Amendment 14 to the Atlantic mackerel, squid and butterfish fishery management plan that also takes into account actions that could affect river herring. The council is in the process of gathering information to decide whether it should move forward to develop management alternatives. The next step would be an environmental impact statement.
The scoping document prepared by the council notes that while a river herring stock assessment is not likely to be available until next year, indications are that stocks are at relatively low levels. It goes on to say that actions related to the issue could include additional at-sea monitoring, dockside monitoring, modifications to monitoring and reporting requirements, area closures where there are incidental catches of river herring and other measures to reduce the incidental catch of river herring and shads.
As it is now, Earnshaw said fleets trawling for sea herring that spawn at sea frequently net river herring as a by-catch. These fish are tossed back, but by then they are dead.
“We need to know what they’re catching,” he says.
Further, he contends that actions of these trawling fleets that use spotter planes and giant, highly efficient nets virtually sweep the sea clean of not only sea and river herring but also many other species.
Another action the industry is using is “pair trawling” where two vessels with a net stretched between them cover vast areas to scoop up schools of fish, he said.
“There’s no limit to what they catch. They can’t keep doing it,” he said.
And what’s happening offshore Earnshaw contends is impacting herring runs in Buckeye Brook and other locations. He said 8,300 herring were counted in this year’s run as compared to 31,000 last year. Thirty years ago the fish were so plentiful that for days the stream that flows from Spring Green and Warwick Ponds to Mill Cove was packed with the fish to the point where they flopped on the banks. As the runs depleted a ban on the netting of herring, used as bait by sport fishermen, was imposed.
John Torgan, baykeeper with Save the Bay said, “We need to do everything we can to save the herring.” He said that Save the Bay supports the use of observers to monitor what offshore fleets are catching.
Torgan said there are differing opinions on why there has been a decline in river herring. He said there was a dramatic drop in runs starting in 2000 that was followed by bans in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Rhode Island was the last of the states to ban possession of the fish.
One theory is that increased water temperatures have affected migratory patterns, although that hasn’t been proven. Then there is the belief, he said, “that a lot of river herring are getting caught up” with the catching of sea herring.
Department of Environmental Management fisheries biologist Phil Edwards said that this year’s herring runs were “site specific.”
“Some were better and some were worse, but either way they were much lower than 2001,” he said. Edwards added, however, that this year’s runs were better than those of 2005 and 2006.
Additional information is available from the Herring Alliance at herringalliance.org and Earnshaw at 401-739-6592.