In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, December 6

Northern shrimp is historically a favorite winter seafood choice in New England, but the fishery has been closed since 2013. Image via NEFSC/NOAA.

  • The 2014 Gulf of Maine shrimp season has been cancelled. On Tuesday, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted unanimously to implement a moratorium on fishing for Northern shrimp next season in response to a population collapse. The 2012 shrimp survey showed startlingly low numbers of adult shrimp, and this summer’s survey found just 20 percent of the previous year’s numbers; recruitment has also been extremely poor since at least 2010. Some scientists think the decline in shrimp populations may be related to rising sea temperatures in the Gulf of Maine. Last year’s catch was the smallest since the fishery was closed in 1978, and brought in $5.1 million. Despite the small size of the fishery, many fishermen depend heavily on shrimping. Although most stakeholders seem to agree the fishery should be given time to recover, fishermen, distributors, and restaurant owners say the closure will be financially damaging.
  • The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office filed a motion for summary judgment this week in its lawsuit to raise groundfish catch limits. The motion argues that NOAA did not adequately account for economic impacts of the cuts to catch limits for cod, haddock, and other species, and that the regulations were based on insufficient science. Conservation Law Foundation also filed motions for summary judgment in two cases before D.C. District Court, which argue that the rule allowing sectors to carry over a portion of the previous year’s quota illegally authorizes overfishing on cod, and that the regulation allowing sectors to apply for access to the groundfish closed areas violates the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
  • Yankee Magazine’s Rowan Jacobsen published a log of his time on NOAA’s ship Henry B. Bigelow as it conducted groundfish stock assessment surveys in the Gulf of Maine in May 2013. Jacobsen talks with NOAA scientist Mike Palmer about the uncertainty of stock assessments and the culture of distrust between NOAA and New England’s groundfish fishermen. He also documents the at-sea realities of surveys, as volunteers and scientists sort, count, and determine the age of the menagerie of species the Bigelow’s nets catch. He describes seeing “precious few cod,” and speaks with Palmer about the data anomalies that caused an optimistic 2008 cod stock assessment to be revised sharply downward three years later.
  • ASMFC member and charter boat captain John McMurray wrote a piece for addressing rumors that New England fishermen have begun fishing for sand lance. McMurray notes that nearly all marine species in the northeast depend on sand lance and other forage fish, but that these species are generally data-poor and minimally regulated. While fishery management councils in other regions have acted to protect unmanaged forage species whose fisheries are developing, councils in New England and the Mid-Atlantic have not. McMurray urges this sort of precautionary measure and says that an unregulated large-scale fishery for unmanaged forage fish like sand lance could be “absolutely disastrous.”
  • The New York Times published an editorial promoting the value of marine reserves in building resilience to climate change. The piece pointed to recent research published in Nature Climate Change that showed greater ecosystem stability within a marine reserve off Tasmania than in nearby unprotected waters. It concludes that the ability of species to endure the effects of climate change depends more on ecosystem health than on an individual species.
  • At the 2013 Pacific Marine Expo, Dr. Brian Rothschild of the newly-formed Center for Sustainable Fisheries outlined his goals for the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. CSF has proposed rewrites of the National Standards that form the foundation of the federal fisheries management act. CSF’s plan cuts the National Standards from ten to five and places more emphasis on maximizing yields and minimizing economic impacts, while completely removing any mention of ending overfishing.
  • Maine’s inshore scallop season began on Monday, with fishermen already receiving over $12 per pound for their catch—higher than last year’s prices of $7 to $9. The season will last 70 days, with an abbreviated 50 day season in Cobscook Bay. The strength of the scallop fishery is expected to ease some of the economic blow of the cancellation of the shrimp seas, with over 600 fishermen holding state scallop licenses.
  • The late sea urchin dragging season in parts of Maine also began on Monday, but prices are down, with buyers offering fishermen $2.50 to $3 per pound relative to $5 per pound last year. The urchins are processed for their roe, and fishermen report that they are not carrying as much roe as last year’s harvest.


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