In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, December 13

NOAA has released a final rule allowing sectors to fish in portions of the Nantucket Lightship closed area. Map credit: NOAA

  • This week, NOAA announced its final interim rule to open portions of the groundfish closed areas to fishing. Sectors will now be allowed to fish in two portions of the Nantucket Lightship groundfish closed area that do not intersect with an essential fish habitat closure. This area had previously been closed to fishing since 1994. Fishing in the area will be subject to standard levels of observer coverage and will require large-mesh gillnets or selective bottom trawl gear to reduce impacts on overfished flounder stocks. NOAA had previously considered allowing access to portions of Closed Area I and Closed Area II on Georges Bank as well, but ultimately did not approve access to these areas in response to overwhelmingly negative public comments on the proposal.
  • The Attorney Generals of New Hampshire and Rhode Island have joined Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley’s lawsuit to raise catch limits on cod and haddock. The complaint argues that the cuts to catch limits—which the NEFMC and NOAA implemented for this fishing year in response to the poor status of groundfish stocks—were based on insufficient scientific evidence and did not adequately consider economic effects. New Hampshire and Rhode Island both filed amicus curiae briefs, with RI Attorney General Peter Kilmartin commenting that fisheries regulations should “balance the need to conserve fishery resources with the well being of the fishing communities that it will impact.”
  • House Natural Resources Committee chairman Doc Hastings has announced that Republican lawmakers will release a draft Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization bill next week. The committee will hold a hearing on the reauthorization in January, and is also planning to propose reforms to the Endangered Species Act early next year.
  • Congressman John Tierney and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Market, among others, have signed on to a letter commenting on NOAA’s proposed bluefin tuna regulations. The rules would implement an annual cap for bluefin caught by longlines along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, would create a new system to allocate that cap between longline fishermen, and establish new gear restriction areas. The letter argued that the regulations could put Massachusetts rod and reel fishermen at a disadvantage by allowing those from other regions fishing with less-selective longlines to catch a disproportionate amount of the quota.
  • Maine fishermen say the cancellation of the 2014 shrimp season will hit them hard. The ASMFC announced the shrimp moratorium last week after assessment surveys found the lowest populations on record; the decline in shrimp has been linked in part to rising water temperatures. This year, the Maine shrimp fishery caught 677,000 pounds of shrimp, with some fishermen making over $2,000 a day. Fishermen often turned to shrimp when other fisheries, particularly lobster, slowed down in the winter. Fishermen and processors now fear they will lose the market for northern shrimp, exacerbating the economic loss even if the stock recovers. An opinion piece in National Fisherman used the loss of the shrimp season as an argument for federal aid for struggling New England fishermen.
  • The National Marine Fisheries Service has made permanent a requirement that large ships limit their speed in areas where North Atlantic right whales are known to feed and reproduce. The current five year regulation was set to expire on Monday; the Agency posted its preliminary ruling extending the requirement last Friday. The rule creates seasonal management areas where vessels over 65 feet cannot exceed 10 knots. Between 2008 and 2012, there were no recorded right whale deaths within 40 nautical miles of these areas.
  • A new study suggests that, in addition to physiological effects, ocean acidification may influence fish behavior. The researchers treated a group of juvenile rockfish with anxiety-inducing drugs and observed their behavior relative to a control group. They then exposed an unmediated group of fish to acidic water to match the anticipated ocean pH at the end of the century. The behavior of the fish exposed to more acidic water was similar to the behavior of the fish exposed to an anxiety-provoking drug, suggesting that acidification stresses fish and may change behavior and population dynamics.
  • Maine is considering setting individual quotas for its elver fishery. The fishery currently has a set number of licenses and a ten-week season. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has asked Maine to reduce the catch by 25 to 40 percent next year, leading the state to consider new management measures. At a Maine Department of Marine Resources hearing on Wednesday, some fishermen suggested individual catch quotas based on catch history, but others supported a derby fishery with an overall catch cap. Maine DMR commissioner Patrick Keliher said he has concerns about law enforcement problems and gear conflicts related to a derby fishery. The next elver season begins in March 2014.

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