In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, August 2

The three east coast fishery management councils have signed an MOU to protect deep sea corals. Photo Credit: NOAA

  • Fishermen and environmental groups are disappointed with NMFS’ decision to reject a 100-percent observer coverage requirement for Atlantic herring trips in New England. The disapproved measures would have required large herring vessels to carry an independent observer on every trip, mandated that buyers weigh the catch rather than estimating, and limited the number of times fishermen could dump fish without counting them. Fishermen believe that the decline in predatory fish like cod is related to the depletion of Atlantic herring and river herring due to new fishing techniques, so they have pushed for better herring conservation measures. John Pappalardo of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance called the rejection “willful ignorance,” while the agency argued that it simply does not have the funds to pay for full observer coverage.
  • New England fishermen have renewed their complaints that stock assessments are not accurate enough to justify sharp cuts in catch limits, citing the variable estimates of the Gulf of Maine cod population. NOAA regional administrator John Bullard said that “science is something that is always challenged, especially when scientists are giving people news they don’t want to hear,” and noted that fishermen could not come close to catching their full quota of cod last year. CLF’s Peter Shelley suggested that assessments may be complicated by unreported catch or discards. While some members of the industry argue that inaccuracies mean that the tight restrictions on catch should be eased, scientists have noted that assessments consistently overestimate fish populations and underestimate catch, suggesting a need for precautionary management.
  • New England Fishery Management Council chairman Rip Cunningham wrote to NOAA regarding the observer requirements in the proposed rule that will grant fishermen access to 3000 square miles of previously protected habitat. The proposed rule requires that every vessel accessing these areas carries an independent fisheries observer paid for by fishermen. Cunningham’s letter argues that the cost of these observers is not affordable for most operations, so there will be little economic benefit to opening the areas. He also says that NOAA’s justifications for requiring this level of observer coverage are insufficient or false. Numerous environmental groups and members of the public have commented to NOAA in favor of the observer requirements, while noting that access to the closed areas will be ecologically and economically destructive.
  • A two-day symposium hosted by the Island Institute in Maine this week focused on the impacts of climate change on fisheries. The forum, “A Climate of Change,” facilitated discussion on the effects of rising water temperatures and ocean acidification as well as potential policy and regulatory responses. Scientists at the event noted that climate change has only exacerbated the effects of chronic overfishing and habitat alteration, and so it should not be addressed outside the larger fisheries management context. Tom Dempsey of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance indicated that climate change is not the prime driver in the decline of cod and called for better regional ecosystem-based management. Graham Sherwood of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute noted the positive effects of prohibiting fishing in certain areas—3,000 square miles of which will soon be open to fishing under a NOAA proposal. In addition, scientists and fishermen expressed concern that booming lobster populations in Maine are linked to reduced predation by cod and have led to overdependence on a single fishery—what scientist Bob Steneck called “a lucrative monoculture.”
  • Cape Cod’s oyster bandits struck again this week, stealing 3,000 oysters from a town-operated farm on Barnstable’s Marston Mills River. This theft follows a string of similar robberies in Dennis, in which more than $40,000 of shellfish and equipment have been stolen.
  • The New England, Mid-Atlantic, and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to coordinate the protection of deep-sea corals. The MOU will provide guidelines for the development of management measures by each council. Deep-sea corals provide important habitat for numerous species, but are slow-growing and easily damaged. New England management measures may include the designation of deep sea coral zones in areas in the Gulf of Maine, the Georges Bank canyons, and the seamounts.
  • NOAA has announced a new grant opportunity funded by tariffs on seafood imports collected under the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act. $5-10 million in grants will be awarded to fisheries research projects, with an emphasis on cooperative research and industry participation.
  • A team of scientists this week began their quest to tag up to twenty great white sharks in state waters off Chatham over the next month. The team is led by state scientist and shark expert Greg Skomal. The researchers will also collect blood and tissue samples from the sharks and attach accelerometers to track their movements through the water. The data will be posted in real time at


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