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In the News
Fish Talk in the News – Friday, December 20
The Atlantic sea scallop fishery is one of the most valuable in the country. Image via NOAA.
- The New England Fishery Management Council met this week to discuss management priorities for 2014, changes to rebuilding plans for American plaice and Gulf of Maine cod, and the proposed alternatives for the suite of habitat protection measures known as the Omnibus Habitat Amendment. On Monday, the Council selected management priorities, which included a measure to begin considering alternative stock assessment methods.
- On Wednesday, the Council turned to the Omnibus Habitat Amendment. Heeding the advice of environmental and industry groups, the Council voted not to select preferred alternatives from the range of proposed options, since an incomplete draft environmental impact statement did not provide sufficient information. Later in the day, the Council voted to add an additional habitat alternative on Georges Bank to the analysis. The proposal would maintain the current Habitat Area of Particular Concern within Closed Area II and extend it slightly west, while a second option would keep most of that area closed but open an eight mile wide access alley on the area’s eastern edge, along the Hague Line. NOAA Regional Administrator John Bullard expressed the need for a full range of alternatives that meet the stated goals and objectives of the habitat amendment process, which include protecting essential fish habitat to the extent practicable and enhancing groundfish productivity.
- House Natural Resources Committee Doc Hastings revealed his draft Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization bill on Thursday. The bill would replace the current ten-year rebuilding requirements for overfished stocks with less strict requirements, create more flexibility in setting rebuilding plans and catch limits, would require a vote of all affected permit holders to implement a new catch shares system, and would emphasize economic impacts when making decisions on catch limits and rebuilding. It would also restrict access to fisheries data and implement new electronic monitoring requirements. Democratic members of the House committee previously criticized Hastings for not sharing the draft with them prior to its release, while environmental groups expressed serious concerns about its weakening of rebuilding mandates. Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio said that “most of the stakeholders who have testified before the committee this year believe that the Magnuson-Stevens Act is working and that wholesale changes or a total overhaul aren’t necessary,” while Ted Morton of the Pew Charitable Trusts said that the draft “turns back the clock on fishery management….[and] takes a major step backward”
- An economic analysis commissioned by the New England Fishery Management Council has found no evidence of excessive concentration of groundfish catch allocations. Consultants Compass Lexicon express concern that concentration of shares of coke species—stocks with low catch limits that are difficult to avoid, and thus may limit fishermen’s catch of other species—may exercise market power over the market for catch entitlements. Still, the analysis found that landings of all groundfish species except winter flounder have been highly unconcentrated. The authors recommend implementing a cap of 15.5% for an individual’s catch entitlement. The report will be discussed at the January New England Fishery Management Council meeting.
- The Atlantic sea scallop fishery gained Marine Stewardship Council certification this week. An independent adjudicator for the MSC ruled against a complaint by Maine scalloper Togue Brawn that said the analysis of the fishery’s sustainability had not adequately accounted for the impact of Limited Access permit holders on the scallop resource. In the Northern Gulf of Maine scallop management area, catch is limited by a total allowable catch, daily possession limits, and a maximum dredge size, but Limited Access permit holders are not subject to these regulations. The adjudicator said the effect of these permit holders was not significant enough to warrant denying MSC certification. Brawn called the decision “a significant blow to the integrity and validity of the MSC eco-label,” while American Scallop Association Attorney John Whiteside called it “an American fisheries success story.” The certification applies to U.S. Atlantic scallops fished by limited entry federal permit holders, which accounts for 95 percent of the U.S. scallop fleet. The 14 member companies of the American Scallop Association will now be able to display the MSC eco-label on the packaging of their products.
- Maine continues to develop plans to reduce the 2014 elver harvest by up to 40 percent relative to last year’s catch. The Department of Marine Resources held its first public hearing on the cuts last week, where fishermen suggested they supported individual quotas based on catch histories. The next hearing will take place on January 2nd in Brewer. Meanwhile, an Animal Planet show premiering January 2nd, “Cold River Cash,” will follow three teams of Maine fishermen through the ten-week elver season.
- On Monday, several hundred stakeholders gathered at the University of Maine to discuss the state’s booming population of invasive green crabs. The crabs thrive in the Gulf of Maine due to warming waters and a lack of natural predators. They are voracious eaters and have been linked to declining populations of softshell clams; they also harm eelgrass beds, and some fishermen fear they may prey on lobsters as well. The conference touched on finding potential commercial markets for the crabs, but most are too small to catch for meat, and no commercial market exists for processed green crab products.
- A new report from NOAA’s National Ocean Service says that some types of marine aquaculture can be performed with no adverse impacts to the surrounding environment. The study recommends developing regional management and monitoring protocols, but says that when sited and managed appropriately, finfish aquaculture’s impacts are minimal.