A large group of recreational fishermen in Rhode Island is supporting new restrictions proposed to protect Atlantic herring.
The New England Fishery Management Council wants to establish a new process for setting the sustainable harvest limit, referred to as the "acceptable biological catch." The new control rule would take into account herring's role in the ecosystem, meaning the needs of its predators would be considered when setting fishing quota.
Rich Hittinger, first vice president of the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association, said the group supports the new rule because Atlantic herring are an important forage fish for other speices, including fish recreationa fishermen catch.
"You get birds and whales and fish like striped bass and cod fish that really rely on those other fish or else they can’t survive," Hittinger said.
However, the Sustainable Fisheries Coalition, a group of commercial fishing companies, said in an email the current control rule is better because it allows for more flexibility in setting catch limits.
Commercial fishermen want flexibility because environmental factors determine how many young fish enter the popoulation each year.
Hittinger also claimed commercial fishermen are depleting local populations of herring, which he said could impact the numbers of bigger fish available for recreational fishing and in turn, harm the economy.
"Recreational fishing is directly responsible for over $200 million in the local economy, and recreational fishing directly supports almost 2,000 full time jobs in Rhode Island alone," Hittinger said.
The Rhode Island Angler’s Association supports the proposal to ban mid-water trawl nets within 25 nautical miles offshore.
The Sustainable Fisheries Coalition opposes any new restrictions because they claim there is no evidence that current regulations are harming herring.
The New England Fishery Management Council is holding public hearings througout the region on the proposed restrictions this month.
This post has been updated.