Following a decision by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Atlantic Herring Management Board to set the number of landing days at zero for the second half of the 2021 herring season, Maine fishermen could only land the prized bait fish as an incidental catch. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

NOAA awards disaster assistance for herring fishery 

WASHINGTON — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries has awarded Maine $7,191,787 to provide disaster assistance for the state’s struggling Atlantic herring fishery. NOAA Fisheries will work with the Maine Department of Marine Resources to administer the funds. 

In July 2020, Governor Janet Mills wrote Wilbur Ross, secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, requesting declaration of fishery failure. 

“Atlantic herring is a critical and historic fishery in the state of Maine,” she wrote. “Although there is a rich history of herring processing in Maine for the canned food market, in recent years, herring landed in Maine has gone to the bait market to support the state’s iconic lobster fishery. Recently, Atlantic herring experienced a fishery resource disaster as evidenced by the results of the 2018 benchmark stock assessment.” 

The 2018 stock assessment for Atlantic herring highlighted a total population reduction of more than 70 percent within a five-year span. Given these results, catch limits have been reduced by more than 80 percent, significantly decreasing the value of herring landed at Maine ports. Moreover, during the 2019 season, there were only nine weeks where Atlantic herring was landed, compared to 29 weeks in 2017.  

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, sent a letter to the Commerce Department in support of the Governor’s request. 

“The drastic reduction in Atlantic herring quotas has caused significant losses in primary income and threatened job security for many in the herring industry,” Collins said. “Given the unstable status of our Atlantic herring fishery, and its role in supporting Maine’s iconic lobster industry, I advocated for the state of Maine’s commercial fishery failure declaration request. This financial assistance provided through the designation is crucial to the survival of Maine’s Atlantic herring fishery.”