Fleet Communication System for Butterfish/River Herring Avoidance

Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program has received funding from NOAA Fisheries Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for continuing a fleet communication system as a method to abate butterfish and river herring/shad bycatch. Butterfish and longfin squid exhibit similar migratory patterns and habitat preferences from season to season. As a result, the directed longfin squid fishery commonly observes considerable numbers of butterfish as bycatch. With butterfish bycatch cap limitations in effect, the longfin squid fishery is threatened by early closures and cancellations. Due to the commercial significance of the longfin squid fishery, the need for a bycatch reduction method is compulsory.

This project is an innovative alternative approach to bycatch reduction devices and mesh size modification as solutions for reducing butterfish and river herring bycatch. Cod end mesh size management is not a viable option in the longfin squid fishery because the mesh size required to exclude significant catches of butterfish or river herring reduce the volume of the longfin squid catch to levels below economic viability. The longfin squid squid fishery is of vital importance to the economic health of many commercial fishing communities, particularly in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern New England areas

The fleet communication system collects and reports real-time observations of these bycatch species and identifies “hot spots” from vessels engaged in the longfin squid bottom trawl fishery. This enables the fleet to avoid the “hot spot” locations in order to reduce fleet-wide capture of butterfish and river herring. “Hot spots” are identified by cell number on a nautical chart with a 10 minute square grid. A “hot spot” is a designated cell or cells that are considered to have a high concentration of butterfish and river herring/shad within any reported tow. The following criteria is used to identify the level of bycatch: 

Butterfish                                                        River Herring/ Shad

Urgent: 75% + as a % of total catch                Urgent: 2 - 5% + as a % of total catch

High: 50 -75% as a % of total catch               High: 1 - 2% as a % of total catch

Moderate: 25 – 50% as a % of total catch    Moderate: 0.5 - 1% as a % of total catch

Low: Less than 25% as a % of total catch    Low: 0 - 0.5% as a % of total catch


“Hot spot” information is transmitted through VMS and Boatracs. Vessels should send one email per 24 hours to CCE at hotspot@cornell.edu.  This program can lead to appreciable bycatch monitoring and reduction, and increased fishing opportunities for the squid fleet that might otherwise be restricted once the bycatch of butterfish and river herring cause unwanted fishery closures. This voluntary avoidance program is an innovative alternative approach to bycatch reduction devices and mesh size modification as solutions for reducing bycatch.

For more information and to get involved click "How to Participate" on the left side of the screen or call (631) 727-7850 x 317 for more information.