In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, August 16

Cobia are typically found in warmer waters, but anglers have recently been catching them in New England. Photo: NOAA

  • Stakeholders have continued to express frustration with NOAA’s rejection of a Council plan to require 100% observer coverage for midwater herring trawlers. While some Council members called the rejection “a slap in the face” and a symptom of a dysfunctional partnership, NOAA Regional Administrator John Bullard said the decision was financially motivated. He indicated that NOAA does not have the estimated $2 million needed to cover the cost of the observers, and that he had pointed out this problem to the Council several times during the development of the plan. Meanwhile, environmental groups said the decision puts herring and other fish stocks at risk and that the government’s slow decision-making was irresponsible.
  • Lobster shell disease, which was once common only in warmer southern waters, is becoming more prevalent in New England. About a quarter of lobsters caught in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have been affected by the disease since the 1990s. While it is still relatively uncommon in Maine, its prevalence has grown fivefold in the last two years, concerning scientists and fishermen. The disease causes shell blemishes that can make lobsters unmarketable, but is not harmful to humans.
  • The Maine Lobstermen Union held its first meeting earlier this week in Bangor. The Union was formed to help raise and maintain lobster prices, which have plummeted in recent years.
  • A new NOAA research vessel, the Ferdinand R. Hassler, has arrived at UNH’s Judd Gregg Marine Research Complex. The vessel will use advanced multi-beam echo sounders to map large portions of the seafloor in the northeast, in collaboration with the UNH Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping. This fall, it will map an area off the Isle of Shoals, which was last surveyed before 1930 with lead line soundings.
  • Michael Conathan of the Center for American Progress published a piece this week noting the negative impacts of shark fin bans on the dogfish fishery. Dogfish are one of the few species fishermen in New England can reliably catch, but there is almost no domestic market for them, leading to pitifully low prices. Conathan argues that dogfish fins have a higher value and could help fishermen make more money from their catch. He says that bans on the act of shark finning—in which fishermen slice the fins off live sharks and throw the rest of the animal back—are necessary and laudable.  But bans on the sale of all shark fins, even those collected through less cruel and wasteful methods, are unnecessary and damaging to fishermen.
  • Low abundance of sand lance is hurting whale watch businesses. Sand lance populations appear to follow cycles of abundance, with particularly low numbers in Cape Ann waters this year. Humpback and other whales eat sand lance, so lower abundance of this prey species means fewer feeding whales in the area.
  • Fishermen in New England are more frequently catching species that have historically been found further south. Just this week, a fisherman caught a sailfish in the Cape Cod Canal, and cobia, red drum, black sea bass, and other warm-water species have become more common. Average water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine reached record highs last year, and are expected to follow suit in 2013.
  • The Ocearch expedition to tag great white sharks off Cape Cod is having difficulty catching them. Despite numerous sightings, scientists have gone ten days without catching a shark, and the great whites seem uninterested in the bait. Scientists are hopeful they will find targets for the researchers to fit with tags and accelerometers and collect blood and tissue samples. The expedition may be extended.
  • New England’s lobstermen oppose gear changes meant to reduce interactions with right whales. The proposed rule would require fishermen to attach more than one pot to each buoy line to reduce the number of lines in the water. Lobstermen say this method would cause safety issues and would not reduce marine mammal entanglement.
  • The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council discussed options to protect deep-sea corals at its meeting this week. Proposals include designating coral zones, where management measures could include anything from the status quo to complete bottom-tending gear bans. Some fishermen argued the strictest alternatives would severely hinder the squid fishery.
  • A new study published earlier this month by scientists from the University of Maine and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute links the stagnant recovery of Atlantic salmon stocks to climate change and the changing distribution of capelin. The scientists recommend further genetic diversity research and forage fish protection to help salmon populations recover.
  • Thanks to conservation and river restoration efforts, alewife populations are beginning to recover. The growing populations are feeding the lobster bait industry, since the fish—once used mainly in cat food and fertilizers—are a favorite food of hard-shelled lobster.

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