As a seabird lover and scientist, I am lucky enough to migrate every summer to coastal Maine to study the local seabirds. I get to watch firsthand as Atlantic puffins nest and forage for fish all summer long. Every time I boat out to one of the puffin islands, I see firsthand why they need a steady supply of forage fish. As the boat pulls up and the fog clears, streams of puffins zoom past us. Each bird departs the island many times per day with just one goal: to find enough forage fish to feed themselves and their chicks.

Atlantic puffins do best when they can find and catch a species of forage fish called Atlantic herring, which are small, schooling fish commercially harvested for lobster bait, vitamins, fertilizer and more. Puffins prefer this tiny but mighty fish because they are the right size to slide down their small beaks, and are packed full of calories and nutrients.

Since the mid-1990s, large ships, called midwater trawlers, have been catching Atlantic herring with football-field-sized nets, pulling millions of pounds of this small fish out of the ocean in the areas where they operate. This concentrated extraction, known as “localized depletion,” can have serious consequences for nesting seabirds if it occurs in their foraging grounds.

We’re also finding that climate change is creating unprecedented marine heat waves in the Gulf of Maine, which are negatively affecting many ocean species. For example, when the ocean surface temperature warms as a result of climate change, fish move farther north or deeper to chase colder, more productive waters.

Scientists and fishery managers are concerned about the low amount of herring in the ocean right now, and they’ve recognized it is time for change. Last year, the New England Fishery Management Council voted to approve Amendment 8 to its Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan, to prohibit large nets such as trawl nets from nearshore waters and prevent localized depletion there. It also lowers overall fishing limits to account for the needs of dozens of species of marine animals that rely on Atlantic herring. That will help not only puffins and other seabirds, but also cod, salmon and many other predatory fish.

While Audubon and other groups supported even stricter conservation measures, this council made progress to protect Atlantic herring by approving Amendment 8. Now, it’s time for the federal government to implement these changes as the council has directed, the last step to make them a reality. The National Marine Fisheries Service wants to hear from the public now – write to them today and urge the federal agency to approve Amendment 8 to the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan as written: This will make a real difference for our beautiful puffins, as well as the entire marine ecosystem.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is gathering comments at deadline for submission is Nov. 25 at 11:59 p.m.

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