Fisheries mis-management

To the Editor:

Are the seiners going to steal your bait in 2009?

They will if new regulations being proposed by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries are approved.

Right now the DMF is proposing to allow vessels up to 72 feet long, which have never done so before, to harvest menhaden with purse seine gear anywhere they like, as much as they like.

In the notice the DMF sent out to announce public hearings at the end of January, they are proposing to allow never before permitted vessels up to 72 feet, to access all of our states waters and fish for menhaden, mackerel, and sea herring with purse seines. One single set or haul can yield literally hundreds of thousands of individual fish, depleting an area of these species in a very short time.

Menhaden? Menhaden, or pogies, are like herring – silverish, around one foot long and travel in huge schools. They are a major part of the diets of some commercially and recreationally important species, like striped bass, bluefish, and summer flounder (fluke). Just about all of the species of fish that travel here for the warmer months eat them, and they are a favored bait of many fishermen. Menhaden have been called the most important fish in the ocean. Other than use as bait for fishing, menhaden are also used for lobster bait and are used for reduction to make animal feed, pet foods and vitamin supplements.

Until a few years ago, menhaden were scarce here in Massachusetts waters. Fishermen who wanted to use them for bait would typically have to buy them.┬áIn the last few years, menhaden have been showing up in greater numbers and that’s been a good thing for our fishermen and for the fish too. Fishermen have been able to get their own bait, and the fishing has been good, especially in the fall. More bait locally means more fish for all of us and that’s a good thing, right?

There is really no good reason for the state to do this. There is already one seiner who regularly fishes Massachusetts waters, and that’s enough. The demand simply isn’t there. The bait stores have enough bait, the fishermen are able to get their own or buy it and that’s a good balance. The conflicts created by this proposed regulation outweigh the benefits to the public, and that isn’t what good fisheries management is supposed to do. It is supposed to manage the fisheries to the maximum benefit of the fish and the public that consumes them.

This proposal does neither. All this will do is allow a very few persons to deplete a resource that we all need and locally deplete stocks of both forage species and the prey fish who consume them.

If you fish for fun or a living here in Massachusetts, I urge you to contact the Massachusetts DMF and tell them you are against this proposal. You can reach the director, Paul Diodati, at 617-626-1530.

John Rice
Harwich