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Atlantic HerringAtlantic Herring (Clupea harengus)

Atlantic Herring

Implementing regulations are found at 50 CFR part 648 subpart J

The Atlantic herring (herring) fishery in the Northeastern U.S. operates from Maine to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and from inshore to offshore waters on the edge of the continental shelf. The herring fishery uses predominantly single and paired mid-water trawl, bottom trawl, purse seine, and to a lesser extent, gillnet gear throughout the entire range. Herring is used primarily in the U.S. as bait for the American lobster and tuna fisheries, but is also frozen whole and canned for human consumption. Herring is jointly managed in state and federal waters by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and NOAA Fisheries in conjunction with the New England Fishery Management Council respectively. 

What are other common names for Atlantic herring?  Sea herring, kipper

What time of year are Atlantic herring most commonly found?  The fishery follows the migration of the herring resource. Spawning occurs in the summer and fall, starting earlier along the eastern Maine coast and becomes increasingly scarce south of New Jersey (August – September) than in the southwestern Gulf of Maine (early to mid-October in the Jeffreys Ledge area) and Georges Bank (as late as November – December). From December to March, the fishery operates in the waters of southern New England. In late summer/early fall, most fishing is in the inshore Gulf of Maine (coastal waters of ME, NH, and MA) Georges Bank, and an area east of Nantucket Shoals.

What is the geographic extent of the fishery?  Herring are distributed from North Carolina to Maine and from inshore to offshore waters to the edge of the continental shelf. The species is most abundant north of Cape Cod and become increasingly scarce south of New Jersey.  The majority of the harvest comes from federal waters, specifically between May and November in the Gulf of Maine.

At what depths are herring found?  Adult Atlantic herring are found in shallow inshore waters, 20 meters deep, to offshore waters up to 200 meters deep.

Are other species caught when fishing for herring?  Yes.  Species composition of catch varies based on gear type and area, but some species caught along with herring include:  Atlantic mackerel, haddock, river herring (alewife and blueback herring), shad (American shad and hickory shad), whiting, and spiny dogfish.   

What gear types are authorized and what gears are primarily used?  Trawls (bottom and mid-water, single and paired), purse seines, gillnets, and weirs are the primary gears used by the commercial fishery. In 2010, 67% of landings by Category A herring vessels were by vessels using paired mid-water trawls, 14% by single mid-water trawls, 12% by purse seines, and 4% by bottom trawls. Category B and C vessels used primarily bottom trawl and purse seine gear.  

How is the fishery managed?  The herring fishery is managed by a stock-wide annual catch limit (ACL) that is allocated to four distinct management areas (sub-ACLs, also known as management area quotas). 

Who manages this fishery?  Herring is managed in Federal waters by the New England Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries Service (NMFS). Herring is managed in state waters by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and individual states. Individual states may set different regulations, such as possession/landing restrictions or spawning area closures. If state regulations differ from Federal regulations, herring permit holders must adhere to the more restrictive regulations. 

What is the fishing year for this fishery?   January 1 – December 31

What are the different management areas for the herring fishery?   

Area 1A – Inshore Gulf of Maine

Area 1B – Offshore Gulf of Maine

Area 2 – South Coastal Area

Area 3 – Georges Bank

Atlantic Herring Management Areas

1972-1976 – Herring is managed by the International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries

1976-1978 – NOAA Fisheries Service regulates international fishing through a preliminary fishery management plan

1978 – United States adopts its own management plan to manage herring stocks on Georges Bank and in the Gulf of Maine, achieve higher levels of spawning biomass and stable recruitment, and rebuild the juvenile herring resource and sardine fishery in the Gulf of Maine

1982 – NOAA Fisheries Service rescinds the 1978 management plan because of conflicts between state and federal regulations

1982 – Herring is placed on prohibited species list, eliminating directed fisheries for the species by international fleets within the U.S. federal waters and requiring any herring bycatch be discarded

1983 – Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission adopts Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Herring

Mid-1980s – Georges Bank herring population begins to rebuild

1994 – Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission adopts a management plan for herring to address the growth of the herring resource and interest in Internal Water Processing operations

1999 – Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission adopts Amendment 1 to the herring management plan to complement the Federal management plan in development at the time by the New England Fishery Management Council

2000 – Federal Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan is implemented by National Marine Fisheries Service in conjunction with the New England Fishery Management Council

2006 - Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission adopts Amendment 2 to the herring management plan to complement Amendment 1 to the Federal FMP in development at the time by the New England Fishery Management Council

2007Amendment 1 (Federal Register (FR) Notice) to the Federal FMP implemented a limited entry for herring vessels, a seasonal purse seine/fixed gear only area in the inshore Gulf of Maine, a three-year specification process, and addresses other management measures for herring

2008Amendment 2 (FR Notice) to the Federal FMP implemented the Standardized Bycatch Reporting Methodology as a part of an Omnibus amendment

2011Amendment 4 (FR Notice) implemented annual catch limits and accountability measures in the herring fishery

2011Herring Regulatory Amendment (FR Notice) implemented daily catch reporting for limited access herring vessels using vessel monitoring systems, weekly fishing vessel trip report reporting, and other catch reporting measures

2014Amendment 5 (FR Notice)
 

Under Development (or Upcoming Actions)

Amendment 3 to the FMP is in development as a part of an Omnibus Amendment to update measures to protect Essential Fish Habitat for all federally managed species.

The New England Fishery Management Council has adopted and submitted Framework 3 for review by NMFS. This action would establish caps by gear and area on the amount of river herring and shad the herring fishery can harvest.

The New England Fishery Management Council is developing Framework Adjustment 4, which would establish requirements for herring dealers and restrictions on vessels when they release catch before it can be sampled by at-sea observers.

NMFS, in conjunction with The New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, is developing an omnibus amendment to establish a mechanism that would enable industry-funded at-sea observer coverage for all fisheries and set observer coverage targets for the herring fishery.

What are the primary markets for the herring fishery?  The main markets for herring are a domestic bait market for lobster and tuna fisheries, food products, and agricultural products. Herring scales were used for making pearl essence in shampoos and conditioners until recently.

What are the recent landings and value of the fishery?  In 2010, there were 145,198,000 lbs of herring sold by federally-permitted dealers with a value of $18,921,000 (Amendment 5 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)).

What are the top herring landing ports? From 2007-2009, the top ports landing herring were: Gloucester, MA; New Bedford, MA; Portland, ME; and Rockland ME (Amendment 5 DEIS). 

Overfishing Definition/Status Determination Criteria:

If stock biomass is equal or greater than the biomass at maximum sustainable yield (BMSY), overfishing occurs when fishing mortality exceeds the fishing mortality rate at the maximum sustainable yield (FMSY). If stock biomass is below BMSY, overfishing occurs when fishing mortality exceeds the level that has a 50 percent probability to rebuild stock biomass to BMSY in 5 years (FThreshold). The stock is in an overfished condition when stock biomass is below ½ BMSY and overfishing occurs when fishing mortality exceeds FThreshold. These reference points are thresholds and form the basis for the control rule.

The control rule also specifies risk-averse fishing mortality targets, accounting for the uncertainty in the estimate of FMSY. If stock biomass is equal to or greater than ½ BMSY, the target fishing mortality will be the lower level of the 80-percent confidence interval about FMSY. When biomass is below BMSY, the target fishing mortality will be reduced consistent with the five-year rebuilding schedule used to determine FThreshold.

The most recent Northeast regional benchmark stock assessment for Atlantic herring was completed in June 2012, as a result of the Stock Assessment Review Committee (SARC) of the 54th Northeast Regional Stock Assessment Workshop (SAW 54).

StockAtlantic Herring
Overfishing?No
Overfishing DefinitionWhen F > FThreshold
Overfished?No
Overfished DefinitionWhen B < BMSY
Rebuilding ProgramNo
F/FMSY0.27
Fishing Mortality Rate0.11 in 2011 (0.23 average from 200-2009)
B/BMSY or B/BMSY Proxy157,000 mt
Biomass1,322,446 mt (January 2011)

Other stock status information:  The following information is from the benchmark herring stock assessment completed in June 2012.

  • The SAW/SARC 54 assessment estimated the 2008 year class as the largest recruitment on record, totaling 59.4 billion age-1 fish in 2009.
  • The 2012 SAW 54 assessment results estimated that Atlantic herring SSB in 2011 was 517,930 mt, which is well above BMSY (157,000 mt). Estimated fishing mortality in 2011 was 0.14, which is below FMSY (0.27). Therefore, the stock is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. 
  • Natural mortality rates during 1996-2011 were increased by 50% to resolve the retrospective pattern present in the 2009 assessment and to ensure that the implied levels of consumption were consistent with observed increases in estimated consumption of herring. Consumption estimates were based on food habits data primarily for groundfish, but also informed by consumption estimates from marine mammals, highly migratory species, and seabirds. The 50% increase in natural mortality implies a decrease in sustainable yield (i.e. lower MSY absent the increase), such that monitoring for changes in predator consumption rates remains of particular importance.

Most Recent Environmental Impact Statement (EIS):  Final Environmental Impact Statement for Amendment 5; Notice of Availability published April 26, 2013 (78 FR 24743), record of decision signed July 18, 2013.

Most Recent Biological Opinion:  None

Most Recent Stock Assessment:  The most recent herring stock assessment was completed in June 2012 and was used in the development of the 2013-2015 herring specifications. The previous assessment was the 2009 Transboundary Resource Assessment Committee (TRAC) assessment used to set the 2010-2012 specifications in the herring fishery.

Next Stock Assessment:  Not yet scheduled

Quota Monitoring – click here

Additional quota information will be updated soon.

Permit information will be updated soon.

Transfer at Sea

A vessel issued a herring permit must obtain a Transfer and Receive Herring at Sea Letter of Authorization (LOA) from the Regional Administrator in order to transfer fish at sea.  A vessel may not transfer or receive herring in amounts greater than its possession limit or any management area possession limit.  To request an LOA from the Regional Administrator, contact the Greater Atlantic Region Permit Office at (978) 281-9730.

Possession Limits and Fish Size Requirements

Possession limits and fish size requirements will be updated soon.

Gear Requirements

Minimum mesh size:  Not applicable.

Other Gear Restrictions:  The use of mid-water trawl gear is prohibited in Area 1A from June 1 to September 30.

Herring as bait

Vessels may use a gillnet to catch herring for use as bait provided it uses a pelagic gillnet.  Pelagic gillnet gear is defined as a single gillnet not longer than 300 ft and not greater than 6 ft deep, with a maximum mesh size of 3 inches.  The pelagic gillnet must be attached to the vessel and fished in the upper two-thirds of the water column.

Vessels fishing for tuna may not have on board purse seine, mid-water trawl, pelagic gillnet, sink gillnet, or bottom trawl gear, for catching herring as bait. Tuna vessels can purchase herring for bait without a herring permit provided they do not have these herring gears on board.

Regulated, Closed, and Access Areas

Management Area 1 (Gulf of Maine): 

All U.S. waters in the Gulf of Maine (GOM) north of a line extending from a point at 41°39' N. lat. and 70°00' W. long. to 42°53'14" N. lat. and 67°44'35" W. long., and northerly along the Hague Line to the U.S.-Canadian border, including state and Federal waters adjacent to the states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

Area 1 is divided into Area 1A (inshore) and Area 1B (offshore).
The line dividing these areas is defined by the following coordinates:

N. lat. W. long.
41°58' 70° 00'
42°38' 70° 00'
42°53' 69° 40'
43°12' 69° 00'
43°40' 68° 00'
43°58' 67° 22'
Herring Management Areas
Herring Management Areas

Management Area 2 (South Coastal Area): 

All waters west of 70° 00' W. long. and south of 41°39' N. lat., including state and Federal waters adjacent to the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.

Management Area 3 (Georges Bank): 

All U.S. waters east of 70°00' W. long. and southeast of the line that runs from a point at 70°00' W. long. and 41°39' N. lat., northeasterly to the Hague Line at 42°53'14" N. lat. and 67°44'35" W. long.

Northeast Multispecies Closed Areas

A vessel fishing for herring in Federal waters must also comply with closed areas for other fisheries, including NE multispecies, unless using gear defined as not capable of catching NE multispecies.  Exempted gear includes the following:  Pelagic hook and line, pelagic longline, spears, rakes, diving gear, cast nets, tong, harpoons, weirs, dipnets, stop nets, pound nets, pelagic gillnets, pots and traps, shrimp trawls (with properly configured grates), and surfclam/ocean quahog dredges.  These include seasonal and year-round closures, Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) closures, and transiting/gear stowage requirements.  In addition to this list, each closed area has specific exemptions for other gears and fisheries.  For more information regarding multispecies regulations click here.

Mid-water trawl herring vessels fishing in NE Multispecies closed areas

Areas:  Closed Area I, Closed Area II, Nantucket Lightship Closed Area, Cashes Ledge Closure Area, and Western Gulf of Maine Closure Area.

At-Sea Observer Requirement:  Mid-water trawl herring vessels fishing in the closed areas listed above must carry a NMFS-approved observer.  Mid-water trawl herring vessels not carrying a NMFS-approved observer may not fish for, possess, or land fish in or from these closed areas.  If catch is released (a.k.a., net slippage) in a closed area prior to making it available for sampling by an observer, the vessel operator musts immediately exit the closed area.  The vessel may continue to fish outside the closed area, but it may not fish in any closed area for the remainder of that trip.

Slippage Prohibition

Slippage in the Atlantic herring fishery means catch that is discarded prior to it being brought aboard a vessel issued an Atlantic herring permit and/or prior to making it available for sampling and inspection by a NMFS-approved observer.  Slippage includes releasing catch from a codend or seine prior to the completion of pumping the catch aboard and the release of catch from a codend or seine while the codend or seine is in the water.  Fish that cannot be pumped and remain in the codend or seine at the end of pumping operations are not considered slippage.  Discards that occur after the catch is brought on board and sorted are also not considered slippage.

Mid-water trawl herring vessels carrying an observer may not slip catch and must bring all catch aboard the vessel to make it available for sampling by an observer.  Vessels may make test tows without pumping catch on board, provided that all catch from test tows is available to the observer when the next tow is brought aboard.

Exceptions for slippage prohibition:

Mid-water trawl herring vessels may slip catch if:

  1. Pumping the catch aboard could compromise safety;
  2. Mechanical failure prevents the catch from being pumped aboard; or
  3. Spiny dogfish have clogged the pump and prevent the catch from being pumped aboard.

Vessel that release catch before it has been sampled by an observer must complete a mid-water trawl released catch affidavit within 48 hr of the end of the fishing trip.  The released catch affidavit details:  (1) Why catch was released, (2) an estimate of the weight of fish caught and released, and (3) the time and location of the released catch.

Exempted Fisheries

Exempted fisheries allow fishing vessels to fish for specific species without being subject to certain Northeast (NE) multispecies regulations, including DAS, provided the bycatch of regulated species is minimal. To be approved and implemented, exemption programs must have demonstrated that incidental catch of NE multispecies is less than 5 percent of the total catch, by weight, and that the exemption will not jeopardize fishing mortality objectives.

How to Request Fishery Exemptions

An exempted fishery may be added, deleted, or modified pursuant to the procedure described below:

  1. Applicants must submit a written request to the Regional Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930-2298. The request should describe the area in which the fishery would operate, the period in which it would operate, the gear it would use, the approximate number of vessels likely to participate, and the species it would target, retain, and land.
  2. Those proposing that a fishery should be exempt should describe the fishery and present all information possible that helps determine that the fishery meets the bycatch standard. The Regional Administrator will investigate NMFS data sources, but proposals for exemptions should be complete and clear to facilitate the process. State agencies and universities, for example, may have additional data available and applicants may contact them for assistance.
  3. When a request for an exempted fishery is submitted, the request and any accompanying data are reviewed by the Regional Administrator to determine whether such a fishery would meet the exemption qualifying criteria, which are described in the first paragraph of this information sheet. The Regional Administrator will also consult with the New England Fishery Management Council on any exemptions requested. This process may take several months to complete.

Exemption Areas (EAs) and Fisheries Where Herring Can Be Retained

NE multispecies regulations include four regulated mesh areas (RMAs) that regulate which gear can be used in each of the following areas:  Gulf of Maine (GOM); Georges Bank (GB); Southern New England (SNE); and Mid-Atlantic (MA).

Gear Area LOA Necessary Other restrictions
Mid-water Trawl GOM/GB Regulated Mesh Area Yes* No mid-water trawl gear allowed in Area 1A from June 1 – Sept. 30
Bottom Trawl GOM/GB and SNE Regulated Mesh Area No See small mesh exemption information sheet for more information on retaining herring in exempted fisheries.
Purse Seine GOM/GB Regulated Mesh Area Yes*  
*A Letter of Authorization (LOA) can be obtained from the Greater Atlantic Regional Permit Office at (978) 281-9370.

Haddock Incidental Catch Cap

Herring Management Areas and Haddock Stock Areas

  • The herring fishery is allocated 1 percent of the haddock acceptable biological catch for each stock of haddock (Gulf of Maine (GOM) and Georges Bank (GB)) each multispecies fishing year (May 1 – April 30). For the 2013 fishing year (May 1, 2013, through April 30, 2014), the haddock catch cap is 273 mt. The haddock incidental catch in the herring fishery is monitored here.
  • When the haddock incidental catch cap for a particular haddock stock (GOM or GB) has been caught, all herring vessels fishing with mid-water trawl gear will be prohibited from fishing for, possessing, or landing, more than 2,000 lb of herring in that particular haddock accountability measure area (GOM or GB) for the remainder of the multispecies fishing year.
  • In addition, the haddock possession limit will be reduced to 0 lb, in the applicable haddock accountability measure area, for the following vessels:
    • All vessels that have a Federal herring permit and are fishing with mid-water trawl gear, and
    • All vessels that have an All Areas Limited Access Herring Permit and/or an Areas 2/3 Limited Access Herring Permit fishing on a declared herring trip.
    • A vessel can possess haddock after the catch cap has been caught, provided the vessel possesses a Northeast multispecies permit and is operating on a declared Northeast multispecies trip.

Haddock Accountability Measure Areas:

Herring GOM Haddock Accountability Measure Area:

The Herring GOM Haddock Accountability Measure Area is defined by the straight lines connecting the following points in the order stated:

Point N. Latitude W. Longitude
HGA1 (1) 69° 20’
HGA 43° 40’ 69° 20’
HGA3 43° 40’ 69° 00’
HGA4 43° 20’ 69° 00’
HGA5 43° 20’ 67° 40’
HGA6 (2) 67° 40’
HGA7 42° 53.1’ 67° 44.4’
HGA8 (2) 67° 40’
HGA9 42° 20’ 67° 40’
HGA10 42° 20’ 70° 00’
HGA11 (3) 70° 00’

(1)The intersection of the Maine coastline and 69° 20’ W. long.
(2)The intersection of the U.S./Canada maritime boundary and 67° 40’ W. long.
(3)The intersection of the north-facing shoreline of Cape Cod, MA, and 70°00’ W. long.

Herring GB Haddock Accountability Measure Area:

The Herring GB Haddock Haddock Accountability Measure Area is defined by the straight lines connecting the following points in the order stated:

Point N. Latitude W. Longitude
HBA1 42° 20’ 70° 00’
HBA2 42° 20’ (1)
HBA3 40° 30’ (1)
HBA4 40° 30’ 66° 40’
HBA5 39° 50’ 66° 40’
HBA6 39° 50’ 68° 50’
HBA7 (2) 68° 50’
HBA8 41° 00’ (3)
HBA9 41° 00’ 69° 30’
HBA10 41° 10’ 69° 30’
HBA11 41° 10’ 69° 50’
HBA12 41° 20’ 69° 50’
HBA13 41° 20’ (4)
HBA14 (5) 70° 00’
HBA15 (6) 70° 00’
HBA16 (7) 70° 00’

(1)The intersection of the U.S./Canada maritime boundary and 42°20’ N. lat.
(2)The intersection of the boundary of Closed Area I and 68°50’ W. long.
(3)The intersection of the boundary of Closed Area I and 41°00’ N. lat.
(4)The intersection of the east-facing shoreline of Nantucket, MA, and 41°20’ N. lat.
(5)The intersection of the north-facing shoreline of Nantucket, MA, and 70°00’ W. long.
(6)The intersection of the south-facing shoreline of Cape Cod, MA, and 70°00’ W. long.
(7)The intersection of the north-facing shoreline of Cape Cod, MA, and 70° 00’ W. long

Coordinates for Haddock Stock Areas:

The GOM Modified Haddock Stock Area is bounded on the east by the U.S./Canadian maritime boundary and straight lines connecting the following points in the order stated:

N. Latitude W. Longitude
(1) (1)
42°20 (2)
42°20 70°00
(3) 70°00

(1) The intersection of the shoreline and the U.S.-Canada maritime boundary.
(2) The intersection of 42°20 N. lat. and the U.S./Canada maritime boundary.
(3) The intersection of the Cape Cod, MA, coastline and 70°00 W. long.

The GB Modified Haddock Stock Area is bounded on the east by the U.S./Canadian maritime boundary and straight lines connecting the following points in the order stated

N. Latitude W. Longitude
(1) 70°00
42°20 70°00
42°20 (2)
40°30 (2)
40°30 66°40
39°50 66°40
39°50 70°00
(3) 70°00
(1) The intersection of the North-facing shoreline of Cape Cod, MA and 70°00 W. long.
(2) The U.S.-Canada maritime boundary as it intersects with the EEZ.
(3) The intersection of the South-facing shoreline of Cape Cod, MA and 70°00 W. long.
Released Catch Affidavit - If you are fishing with midwater trawl gear in the groundfish closed areas or your limited access herring vessel is carrying a NMFS observer, you must bring all catch aboard the vessel and make it available to the observer for sampling.

You may release catch before it is brought aboard if:  (1) You determine there is a compelling safety reason preventing the catch from being brought aboard, (2) mechanical failure prevents the catch from being brought aboard, or (3) spiny dogfish clog the pump and prevent the catch from being pumped aboard.

If you release catch, even for one of the reasons described above, you are required to complete this released catch affidavit form and mail it to NMFS at the end of your trip.