In 2008, The Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) started a large scale portside sampling program to characterize landings in the Atlantic herring fishery. Two years later, DMF, UMass-Dartmouth SMAST, and the Atlantic herring fishing industry partnered to increase state portside sampling to 50 percent and create a bycatch avoidance program. The groups aimed to reduce river herring (Alewife and blueback herring) and American shad bycatch by at least 50%. DMF's data also aids in fishery monitoring and provides information for developing fisheries management policies. The Atlantic herring Research Set-Aside (RSA) funds these efforts. The RSA allows fishermen to pay for research with the sale of landings.
High quality, cost-effective sampling
DMF samples landings on the dock when vessels offload their catch. Catch is characterized by sub-sampling unsorted landings throughout the duration of vessel offloads. DMF has sampled an average of 133 trips and 17,000 metric tons of landings per year.
DMF also records fish lengths and collects biological samples. This allows DMF to conduct further research. This fishery is also sampled at sea by the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Observer Program (NEFOP). Comparisons of portside and at-sea co-sampled trips have shown no significant differences in catch data.
River Herring Bycatch Avoidance Program
River herring and shad bycatch in marine fisheries are a conservation concern. The DMF/SMAST/Herring industry River Herring Bycatch Avoidance Program is a real-time communication system that notifies fishermen of bycatch interactions.
The program sends real-time alerts to vessels when bycatch is encountered. These “hotspots” are then recommended for avoidance for one week. The program also sends weekly and monthly catch summaries to vessels, letting them measure their catch against the rest of the fleet. While fishing, captains share and receive information via satellite from laptops in their wheelhouses.
DMF holds annual captains meetings, and conducts outreach with fishery and public stakeholders. All active herring vessels who fish with mid-water trawl nets are participants in the program.
Inform Atlantic herring monitoring and management
DMF enjoys close ties to the federal Northeast Fisheries Observer Program. The groups align protocols and sampling priorities, and combine sampling data for analysis. Each year, coverage rates on mid-water trawl Atlantic herring trips can exceed 75 percent. DMF data is also used to help track catch caps that prevent the bycatch of too many river herring or haddock.
Sampling data allow agency biologists to perform detailed analyses, which inform developing regulations.
Federal staff who oversee developing regulations rely on the insight of DMF staff. Emerging fisheries regulations focus on increasing portside sampling and supporting bycatch avoidance initiatives.
Finally, DMF collects biological samples while portside sampling. These samples inform federal stock assessments, as well as state-issued area spawning closures.
Atlantic Herring Research Set-Aside
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funded the portside sampling and River Herring Bycatch Avoidance program in 2010. Further funding was provided in 2011 by The Nature Conservancy.
In 2014, DMF and SMAST received the RSA. The RSA allows the sale of extra catch to fund scientific research and monitoring. DMF and SMAST established higher reporting and fishing standards that RSA-eligible vessels must meet. Thus, eligible members of the herring fishery can receive extra catch, with a part of proceeds funding the sampling and bycatch avoidance work.
Now in its fourth year, the RSA program enjoys support from industry, managers and conservationists alike.
Supporting other research initiatives
DMF's sampling of the Atlantic herring fishery creates research opportunities. Portside samplers fulfill target or bycatch species sampling requests. Collection of biological data and whole specimens helps research. Portside sampling efforts make these studies possible.