(The Center Square) – The federal government is giving $11 million to New England herring fishermen following a declared disaster within the industry.
However, some experts claim the situation was avoidable.
Overfishing herring created the situation in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New England, according to Niaz Dorry, director of the North American Marine Alliance.
In November, the federal government declared a “fishery disaster” allowing assistance in tax dollars to flow into the region, the Gloucester Daily Times in Massachusetts reported. Maine will receive $7 million, Massachusetts over $3.2 million, New Hampshire will receive $600,000, and Rhode Island is set to receive $241,299.
“I have a really difficult time with the use of the word ‘disaster’ about this because it suggests it was something out of our control,” Dorry told The Center Square. “But the real disaster is the fishery management process that has repeatedly ignored warnings that the herring fishery could be overfished if they didn’t take certain steps.”
Dorry points to big business attempting to capitalize on New England’s herring supply without any adequate protections or regulations in place.
For large commercial fishing operations, herring is only valuable if caught in large volumes, Dorry said. The global industry moves from region to region over the world looking for the next area where they can fish at high rates, she said. Once they have depleted the region, they move on from the overfished area to new waters where they work on local policy makers to allow high rates, she said.
This isn’t the first time such a disaster has happened.
In the 1970s, herring numbers collapsed from overfishing, Dorry said. When herring fisheries started to rebuild in the 1990s, experts made recommendations to cap the number of herring caught at approximately 100,000 metric tons but were ignored.
“That was the moment to take precautionary action and they refused to do it,” Dorry said of the decision.
In Massachusetts and New England, herring are a vital part of the fishing economy. They are used for bait in the commercial lobster industry – an industry suffering from bait shortage, the Times article stated.
Fishermen and shore-side operations will receive the federal aid. Dorry hopes money will go toward buying back boats and retrofitting some processing facilities to process a different product but is concerned much will go elsewhere.
“I’m worried that once again those who benefitted from this very well-structured disaster are going to get federal tax money thrown at them,” she said.
To fix the overfishing problem permanently, Dorry said the industry needs to shift its purpose of fishing for herring to what is really needed in the local region rather than fishing for the globally scaled market and adopt a true ecosystem-based approached management.
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