In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, September 14

Harbor porpoises are frequently caught as bycatch in gillnets. (Photo credit: William Keener/Golden Gate Cetacean Research)

  • The Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries has proposed an increase of the minimum landing size for conch from 2 ¾ inches to 3 ½ inches, causing concern among local conch fishermen and processors.  All other Atlantic states have a minimum size of 2 ¾ inches, and fishermen argue that they would be unable to compete if the rules were altered.  A recent study indicating that conchs are not sexually mature at 2 ¾ inches led to Department of Marine Fisheries to propose the change, but fishermen dispute the claim, noting that other studies disagree with that finding and that there has been insufficient research.  New England conch is mainly exported to Asian markets.
  • Health officials in Maine have noted an increase in illnesses linked to raw seafood, with ten cases of vibrio recorded since July 1.  Vibrio bacteria can cause vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and skin lesions.  Older people and those with underlying health issues are particularly prone to severe symptoms and may die as a result of infection.  Many infections are caused by the exposure of open wounds to seawater, but the recent outbreak has been linked to raw seafood.  Vibrio thrives in warmer water, so the unusually high infection rate may be linked to anomalously high sea water temperatures this summer.
  • A study published on September 5th in Fish and Fisheries provides a synthesized analysis of the value of forage fish, including herring, sardines, anchovies, menhaden, and other small schooling species.  The study indicates that forage fish contribute $16.9 billion to global fisheries annually, both directly (as catch) and indirectly (as prey for larger species).  The paper also indicates the importance of forage fish for supporting the diets of marine birds, mammals, and other fish species.
  • The National Marine Fisheries Service has denied a request to alter the seasonal gillnetting closure intended to reduce bycatch of harbor porpoises.  The two-month closure is set to begin in November; the Northeast Seafood Coalition asked NMFS to change the boundaries of the closed area and move the start date to next spring.  John Bullard, NOAA’s new Northeast Regional Director, argued that the closure would not help porpoises, and cited poor compliance with the requirement to install porpoise-deterring “pingers” on nets as a factor in the decision.  Fishermen have denied the reports of poor compliance and noted the high cost of the technology; the Coalition argues that regulators are not adequately considering seasonal fish distributions.
  • A new study published in online journal PLOS One argues that seal culling would have a minimal positive impact on the health of fisheries.  Rising numbers of gray seals in New England waters have created concern that they are attracting sharks, destroying fishing gear, and preventing the rebuilding of fish stocks through excessive predation.  The study modeled fish populations in the absence of all marine mammals and found that levels remained remarkably similar, although ecosystem effects were complex.  The study also noted that the impact of seals on fisheries may become more important as declining stocks push fishermen to exploit species at lower trophic levels.
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit this week upheld a catch shares program for West Coast groundfish.  The court unanimously upheld a prior ruling that the program was lawfully executed under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and that the appropriate steps were taken to protect coastal communities.  The Environmental Defense Fund, United Catcher Boats, and the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative joined the Federal government in supporting the catch shares program, noting that it has reduced bycatch and stabilized the industry.



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