ELLSWORTH – Imagine running a trucking business and having your supply of diesel fuel cut by 70 percent.
For all practical purposes, that’s what happened to the Maine lobster industry last week.
On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries arm announced that it was cutting the 2019 herring quota by about 70 percent. That’s bad news for lobstermen.
While diesel oil is the fuel that powers most lobster boats, herring is the fuel that powers the Maine lobster industry.
Herring is the most popular bait used in the Maine lobster fishery and with the cut in the herring quota from about 110 million pounds last year to about 33 million pounds this year, bait is going to be scarce, and expensive.
The reduction wasn’t unexpected.
Last August, at the request of the New England Fishery Management Council, NOAA reduced the 2018 annual catch limit (ACL) for herring from about 231 million pounds to about 107 million pounds to reduce the risk of overfishing.
The new rule sets the limit at about 46 million pounds.
Initially, NOAA considered setting a quota of about 68 million pounds. Faced with the inevitability of cuts to the quota, the Department of Marine Resources, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and several participants in the herring fishery supported the proposal.
Based on what fisheries scientists described as historically low numbers of young herring reaching growing to catchable size, NOAA adopted the lower figure.
The Atlantic herring fishery is divided among four management areas, with each receiving an allocation of the annual quota. Area 1A represents the inshore New England fishery, extending about 50 miles off the coast from roughly the tip of Cape Cod to the Canadian Border. Landings from Area 1A represent the largest portion of the herring used for bait in the Maine lobster industry.
Historically, Area 1A has been entitled to 29.9 percent of the annual herring quota. That percentage allocation hasn’t changed but, with the new catch limits, landings certainly will.
Under the rules adopted last week, MLA Executive Director Patrice McCarron told her members, “we lose nearly 77 million pounds of herring,” in terms of total landings, “with a 51.5-million pound reduction in Area 1A.”