National Geographic : 2003 Jun
"Where there are herring, you're gonna find those little porpoises," Grand Manan fisherman Herbert Lambert told me, dispensing a bit of local knowledge that has endured around the Bay of Fundy for centuries. Passa maquoddy and Micmac Indians caught herring in brush weirs and also ate har bor porpoises that preyed on the herring. Today's porpoises are merely bycatch, a nuisance in modern weirs (above) and gill nets. Fence-like weirs can hold 20,000 dollars' worth of herring and often a dozen porpoises or more. As fishermen seine out the catch (right), herring and porpoises jam into a roiling ball (below). "It's a frightening environment for them," says Andy Read, who started the res cue program in 1991. "There's a lot of noise, and it's the first time in their lives they've been restrained." A decade ago most harbor porpoises trapped with the herring died. Now fishermen call Read's team when they spot a porpoise in their weirs and head out in their boats to help free it. Fishermen are paid for their time, scientists get valuable data, and the survival rate has hit 95 percent. Thanks to such conservation efforts-and to a steep decline in gillnetting-population estimates in the Gulf of Maine have doubled in the past decade to nearly 90,000.