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.
Last Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced it was cutting the 2019 herring quota by about 70 percent. That bodes ill 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 commonly used bait in the Maine lobster fishery. The cut in the herring quota from some 110 million pounds last year to about 33 million pounds this year means 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 for herring from about 231 million pounds to about 107 million pounds to reduce the risk of overfishing.
The new rule sets the catch 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 growing to catchable size, NOAA adopted the lower, 46-million pound figure.