In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, October 26

A net full of spiny dogfish. Photo credit: NOAA/NEFSC

  • Scientists and environmental groups have spoken out against a new confidentiality rule proposed by NMFS under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The rule would limit access to fisheries observer data like species caught, gear used, and bycatch. Rather than being able to request this information directly from the government, interested parties would have to ask permission from private permit holders. Although NOAA would still release aggregated data, they have not specified what would be released or how. The rule is intended to protect the privacy of individuals and businesses, but organizations like Pew Environment Group and Ocean Conservancy have argued that limiting access to these data would curb their ability to conduct scientific studies and would effectively waste the taxpayer money being spent on fisheries observers. The deadline for comments on the proposed rule was October 21; NOAA will now consider the nearly 32,000 comments and work towards a decision on the rule.
  • Carl Safina and Andrew Read have published an opinion piece for National Geographic that criticizes John Bullard’s recent decision to delay a seasonal gillnetting closure. Gillnets frequently entangle and kill porpoises, and the closure, originally scheduled for October and November, was meant to reduce porpoise mortality. Bullard moved the closure to February and March under pressure from fishermen, who claimed that the rescheduled closure would have the same impact on porpoises but lessen harm to the fishery. Safina and Read argue that the fishermen should be told to either comply with the law now or lose their right to fish. In particular, they point to poor compliance with rules requiring porpoise-deterring pingers on nets, which have been proven to reduce mortality, arguing that since a solution for the porpoise problem already exists, not enforcing the rules is unjustifiable.
  • A New York Times editorial published this week focuses on the dramatic effects of bottom trawling on marine environments. Reacting to a recently-published study that demonstrated that commercial trawling has caused significant changes to the bathymetry of underwater canyons off the coast of Spain, the editorial notes that trawling damages the habitat value of the seafloor. It calls for increased regulations and greater consumer awareness of the effects of trawling.
  • Fishing communities in New England are preparing for the possible landfall of Hurricane Sandy early next week. The oncoming Category 1 hurricane, which is projected to make landfall near New Jersey on Tuesday, may interact with a cold front to produce a severe late-season storm reminiscent of the 1991 Halloween Nor’easter that sank the F/V Andrea Gail and inspired the Perfect Storm book and movie. Updated storm forecasts can be found on the National Hurricane Center website.
  • A group gathered in Taunton last Friday to celebrate the removal of the Hopewell Mills Dam on the Mill River. The dam removal is intended to allow river herring to migrate upstream for the first time since the dam was installed in 1818, and is part of a larger effort to restore the native river herring to New England waterways and boost the population. A partnership including NOAA, Representative Barney Frank, the Nature Conservancy, and the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game worked to remove the dam; there are plans to remove the West Britannia dam just upstream as well.
  • A new bill has passed the Massachusetts State House of Representatives that would allow spearfishing for striped bass in state waters. Massachusetts currently bans spearfishing for stripers, but neighboring states like Rhode Island and New Hampshire allow it, leading some to argue that the ban has driven tourist revenue out of the state. While most parties appear to favor the bill, lobstermen oppose it—the law would require that boats give divers a 100-foot clearance, which could keep boats from working if divers are situated near lobster traps.
  • The National Marine Fisheries Service proposed a rule last Friday that would ease restrictions on the growing dogfish fishery. Dogfish have become an increasingly popular choice for fishermen as diminished stocks limit catch of more lucrative species. The low-value sharks are mostly exported to European markets, and the fishery was recently MSC certified sustainable. The new rules would end the requirement that boats fishing dogfish carry a fisheries observer, since the cost of an observer—currently covered by NMFS—exceeds the value of a day’s catch for a dogfish boat.  The rule would also change the assumed level of bycatch for dogfish. Currently, regulators assume a level of bycatch equivalent to that of the groundfish fleet, but observed bycatch for dogfish boats is actually much lower.
  • In an article published in Science this week, Dr. Ellen Pikitch, executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, argues for a more precautionary approach to fisheries management. Commenting on an article that found that 80 percent of global fisheries are overfished, Pikitch says that the current maximum sustainable yield-focused approach for fisheries management does not take ecosystem effects into account. An ecosystem-based management program would require lower levels of fishing and greater precaution on the part of regulators.

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