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Herring fishermen denied haddock bycatch increase

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PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Commercial fishermen who trawl for herring off the coast of New England will not be allowed to exceed their incidental haddock catch limit this year after a ruling in a dispute pitting two of the Northeast's key fisheries against each other.

Atlantic herring fishermen who fish from mid-water trawl boats are on track to exceed their bycatch of haddock in Georges Bank, off the coast of New England, federal regulators have said. That would trigger rules that would prohibit fishermen from catching more than 2,000 pounds per trip — effectively shutting down the herring fishery.

The New England Fishery Management Council, an interstate body that manages fisheries, voted down an emergency request from herring fishermen on Thursday that could have raised their limit for haddock bycatch. Many haddock fishermen opposed the move because they said it would contribute to the depletion of their fishery. The council voted down the request, 10-0, at a meeting in Portland.

Council member Tom Dempsey called raising the cap a "terrible idea" that would jeopardize the health of the haddock fishery. Haddock fishermen and environmentalists who spoke at the meeting agreed.

"What we should be doing is working to reduce haddock bycatch," said Roger Fleming, an attorney speaking on behalf of the Herring Alliance.

Herring fishermen disagreed, citing the importance of the species as a bait fish for lobster.

"The herring fishery has been set up to fail," said Jeff Kaelin, a spokesman for New Jersey-based Lund's Fisheries. "It's unfair."

Members of the fishery council said the council would consider other remedies for the herring fishery.

Herring fishermen are allowed a catch cap of haddock in Georges Bank every year. Fishermen exceeded the limits of 273 metric tons last year and 286 metric tons in 2012.

This year's cap, from May 1 to April 30, is 179 metric tons. Council officials said they are concerned by the lower cap and the fact that fishermen have already caught about 5 percent of it before summer. Council member Mary Beth Tooley said herring fishermen are on track to exceed the cap by September.

The management council's decision came less than a month after the National Marine Fisheries Service said part of the Gulf of Maine's Atlantic herring fishery needed to be shut down for nearly a year. That fishery is heavily restricted until May 1, 2015.

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