In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, August 31st

The NEFMC approved a high-risk 400 metric ton harvest level for Georges Bank yellowtail flounder. Photo Credit: NOAA

  • A draft letter circulating among the New England congressional delegation outlines a proposed $190 million disaster relief package for the Northeast groundfishery.  The draft plan includes a $100 million buyback of boats and multispecies permits, which would be initially funded by the government and re-paid from charges on industry revenues.  Also proposed are $30 million in direct aid to fishermen, $30 million in community assistance, $15 million for at-sea monitoring, $7.5 million for cooperative research, $5 million to support sector operations, and $2.5 million for job retraining for fishermen leaving the industry.  The request for federal disaster aid was initially submitted by Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire eight months ago.  Governor Deval Patrick and several members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation have recently strongly pressured the Department of Commerce to respond to the request.
  • At the meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council’s Science and Statistical Committee on Friday, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell asked the council not to reduce the catch limit for yellowtail flounder.  The low biomass of yellowtail flounder has meant that catch limits have remained very low in recent years, and current science suggests a further cut from 1,150 metric tons in 2012 to just 200 metric tons in 2013 may be necessary to create a low probability of overfishing.  The flounder are frequently caught as bycatch by scallop fishermen, so a low yellowtail quota can curtail the scallop fishery.  The committee agreed to allow bycatch so long as the total catch does not exceed the 2012 limit, a result which caused concern among environmental groups that politics had been allowed to influence scientific proceedings.
  • The United States east coast North Atlantic spiny dogfish fishery has been awarded Marine Stewardship Council certification as a sustainable and well-managed fishery.  In 2009, the annual catch for spiny dogfish was 3,300 metric tons.  Due to careful management and recovery of the stocks, the allowable catch has increased to 16,101 metric tons in 2012, and NMFS no longer categorizes the fishery as overfished.  The European Union is the primary market for Atlantic dogfish.
  • NMFS has adopted new technology to assess scallop stocks.  The Habcam, a high-definition camera mounted on a towable sled, will now be used to evaluate the status of Atlantic scallops.  The new method replaces previous assessment techniques developed by the School for Marine Science and Technology at UMass Dartmouth, which had been crucial in demonstrating that scallops were not overfished and reviving the scallop industry.  Politicians and scallopers have expressed concern that the new assessment techniques have not been adequately tested.
  • Warmer New England waters may be altering the distribution of Atlantic fish.  Water temperatures in the region have been unusually high, with summer 2011 sea surface temperatures at their highest levels since records began 157 years ago and December 2011 temperatures near the Vineyard at a remarkably high 68 degrees.  Fishermen have noted changes in the location of sea herring and other species, and a 2009 NOAA study of 36 economically important stocks noted that the majority had shifted to more northern or deeper waters between 1968 and 2007.  The temperature changes may also be altering the food web and limiting food for bottom-dwelling species like cod and flounder.
  • The Ocean Health Index, recently released by Conservation International, gives the United States’ oceans an overall score of 63/100, with an impressive 97/100 for both artisanal fishing opportunities and coastal livelihoods and economies.  Still, the US scores just 25/100 for food provision.  The Ocean Health Index team also released this video, which focuses on New England Fisheries.
  • Beginning October 16th, Coast Guard safety inspections will be required for fishing vessels that operate outside the three-mile limit.  The dockside inspections of safety equipment were previously voluntary, but the 2010 Coast Guard Authorization Act makes them mandatory beginning this fall.  A report released earlier this summer by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that commercial fishing—and especially fishing in the Northeast—is the deadliest job in the country.


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