In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, April 5

Elvers, also called glass eels, can fetch over $2,000 per pound. Image: NY DEC

  • Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are leading a renewed push in Congress for federal disaster aid for fisheries. The last effort to attach fisheries funding to a Hurricane Sandy relief package fizzled at the end of the last Congress. The bill sponsored by the senators calls for fisheries aid for New England, Alaska, and the Gulf Coast to be set aside in the 2014 budget, and the measure passed at the end of last week. The amendment does not specify an exact amount of funding and is a nonbinding provision, but it apparently signals a renewed effort to secure $150 million in aid. It follows Congressman John Tierney’s introduction of the Fisheries Disaster Relief and Research Investment Act, which would redirect funds from tariffs on imported seafood to aid fisheries.
  • At its next meeting later this month, the New England Fishery Management Council will discuss raising the 2013 catch limit for white hake by 13 percent to just over 9 million pounds. The action follows the release of the SAW/SARC 56 Assessment Summary, which indicates that white hake biomass has increased to 59 million pounds and the stock is no longer overfished. Raising the catch limit would require an emergency action by NOAA fisheries.
  • A bill to immediately open fishways on the St. Croix River to alewives has won unanimous support from the Maine Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee. LD 72, sponsored by Passamaquoddy Tribal Rep. Madonna Soctomah, will now go to the full legislature, and if passed will result in the opening of the fishways by May 1st. Despite the quick, unanimous vote, the measure has been controversial. The committee heard six hours of testimony on the measure on March 25, and it has been countered by an opposing plan introduced by Governor Paul LePage’s administration that would adopt a more gradual approach towards opening the fishways. The reintroduction of alewives to portions of the St. Croix watershed above the Grand Falls Dam is expected to help populations of the ecologically important forage fish recover.
  • Maine Governor Paul LePage has threatened retaliation against the Passamaquoddy Tribe over its distribution of licenses for the elver fishery. His administration says the tribe has issued too many licenses—525 rather than the 150 allowed by the law. In a one-minute call earlier this week, the Governor asked tribal representatives if they would follow state laws regarding the fishery for the small, extremely valuable eels. When the tribal representatives told him the tribe, not the state, has authority over managing the Passamaquoddy portion of the fishery, and that they have held to strict catch limits, the Governor apparently angrily threatened the tribe with reprisals, including dismantling the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, opposing any proposals for casinos, and shutting down the entire fishery. The state Marine Resources Committee has called for harsher penalties for illegal takings; meanwhile, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which regulates the fishery on a federal level, has said it is monitoring the situation but will not intervene in the dispute.
  • A new acoustic monitoring program is contributing to scientists’ understanding of the location and behavior of spawning cod. An underwater laboratory at a site three miles east of Gloucester is capturing audio and video recordings of a large aggregation of spawning cod, helping scientists better understand what draws the fish to particular areas to reproduce. The program has also tagged 150 large cod with acoustic tags that can map their location and movements. So far, researchers have found that cod largely spawn at night and close to the surface, and that they make unique grunting sounds during spawning that could help researchers locate more aggregations. Identifying such areas could help in siting new fisheries closures or protected areas to provide refuge for vulnerable groups of spawners.
  • Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island is leading an effort to Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council for Rhode Island. MAFMC manages the squid fishery and Rhode Island has the largest squid fleet on the east coast, but it currently sits only in the New England council. The Mid-Atlantic council is resisting the change.

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