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In the News
Fish Talk in the News – Friday, December 21
A map of the New England groundfish closures. NOAA is considering action to open areas in orange that do not overlap with shaded areas to commercial fishing. Map Credit: NOAA Information Sheet
- The New England Fishery Management Council met on December 20th to finalize measures for Framework Adjustment 48 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management plan. Among other measures, the Council was expected to finalize 2013 catch limits for groundfish species and take action to determine access to areas previously closed to groundfish trawling. Large cuts in groundfish catch limits of up to 80% were expected. In response, the Northeast Seafood Coalition released a memo suggesting there was a legal basis to introduce interim measures to reduce, rather than end, overfishing, and recommending cuts of only 10% to groundfish catch. The Groundfish Committee, which met on Wednesday before the full Council meeting, approved a recommendation to cut catch by just 10%, and NOAA regional administrator John Bullard seemed prepared to consider the motion. When the motion was introduced in front of the full council, however, Council Chairman Rip Cunningham said it did not meet the requirements of the law and called it out of order. In response, the Council separated catch limits from other FW 48 considerations and pushed any final decisions to their next meeting in January. Some lauded this decision, saying it created an opportunity to review the science and improve decision-making, but environmental groups dismissed the move as a needless delay and an avoidance of the responsibility to end overfishing. The Council also voted to approve a plan that will allow individual sectors to amend their Sector Operation Plans to allow access to areas currently closed to groundfishing. These areas have been closed for over a decade, and in total are roughly the size of Connecticut. Environmental groups have strongly opposed opening the areas, noting their importance as habitat protections and refuges for recovering stocks. The meeting was rife with tension, particularly during the public comment periods, when a Gloucester fisherman rose from the microphone and berated the crowd to “shut the whole damn thing down.”
- The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission last Friday voted to cut the menhaden catch for 2013 by 20% from the previous three-year average. Environmental groups had pushed for cuts of up to 50%, noting menhaden’s value to ocean ecosystems and arguing that menhaden are experiencing overfishing. Members of the reduction fishing industry—dominated by Omega Protein—had claimed that anything beyond a 10% cut would severely hurt their ability to do business. Menhaden stocks have never previously been subject to catch limits, but have declined nearly 90% over the last 30 years.
- The University of Massachusetts has replaced Dr. Brian Rothschild as head of the Massachusetts Fisheries Institute as part of a restructuring of the marine science organization. Steve Lorhenz, dean of the School of Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) at UMass Dartmouth, will become the new co-director of the Institute. Dr. Rothschild was generally popular with industry stakeholders, as his stock assessments at SMAST often showed stocks—particularly scallops—to be in better shape than indicated by government surveys. Rothschild will retain his current professorship and salary. The move garnered harsh criticism from some in the fishing industry, who claimed the move was a “Kafkaesque” ploy to silence opposition to fisheries regulations.
- A Gloucester-based scallop day boat, the Foxy Lady II, went missing last weekend with two fishermen on board. The boat was expected to return Saturday evening, but was reporting missing on Monday. The boat’s Vessel Monitoring System indicated its last position about 15 miles north of Provincetown on Saturday evening. The Coast Guard began a search for the vessel, which intensified after debris, including a rescue pod, from the boat washed up in Hull and Saugus. On Wednesday, the Coast Guard called off the search, presuming the fishermen lost at sea. On board the Foxy Lady II were Wallace Gray Jr., 26, and Wayne Young, 50, both of Deer Isle, Maine.
- Troublingly warm waters in the Gulf of Maine are causing rapid environmental changes, according to an article published this week in The Bangor Daily Times. Ed Monat, who frequently dives in Frenchman Bay, noted very warm waters this summer, an unusual abundance of lobsters, and a scarcity of sea stars and dogfish. Temperatures near shore are currently about 10 degrees higher than they were last winter. The warm waters could potentially interfere with lobster molting, lead to more intense and longer harmful algal blooms, and displace populations of cold-water fish like cod.