In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, June 21

The New York Times remembered when "America's rivers ran silver" with shad. Photo: Jim Cummins/Chesapeake Bay Program

  • The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council imposed the first-ever catch limits on shad and river herring in federal waters this week. Much like other species of anadromous fish, like alewives and blueback herring, spawning shad were once abundant in rivers on the east coast, and they provide an important source of food for many marine species. But water quality and habitat issues and excessive bycatch by the mackerel fishery have pushed these species to near-historic lows. Most Atlantic coast states have already imposed moratoriums on shad fishing in state waters, but the catch in federal waters will now be limited to 236 metric tons of bycatch, compared to the roughly 900 metric tons currently caught each year. In response to this action, some supported the catch limits but noted that dams preventing fish passage are still a major barrier to recovery for shad and river herring.
  • Like in 2012, unusually high landings of lobster are pushing down prices in Maine and the Canadian Maritimes. Last year, an early glut of Maine soft-shell lobster depressed prices and led to conflict with Canadian fishermen. Prices were an average of $2.63 per pound, the lowest average price since 1994, while landings were the highest on record. The abundance of soft-shell lobster was linked to anomalously high water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine. This year, however, high landings of hard-shell Canadian lobster are to blame, and Canadian fishermen have again blockaded processors and demanded higher prices. Still, the news is not all bad for Maine lobstermen. Prices are still higher than last year’s, at around $3-4 per pound. The Maine lobster shedding season is not in full swing yet, so by the time fishermen are catching mostly lower-value, soft-shell lobster, Canadian landings should have trailed off, leading to higher prices for Maine lobster.
  • The Boston Globe published a piece this week highlighting the plight of New England fishermen hit hard by the decline of groundfish populations. NEFMC member Matthew McKenzie points out the innovative spirit of this region’s fishermen and the necessity of adapting to depleted stocks. The article notes the decline in numbers of groundfish boats in Gloucester since 2001, and makes mention of the plan to diversify the waterfront introduced by Mayor Carolyn Kirk, as well as the efforts of fishermen to diversify to healthier species like redfish and skates. It also notes the ongoing push for federal disaster aid for the groundfish industry. Meanwhile, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute published a report on the ecological, economic, and climatological factors influencing the cod fishery. The report calls for protection of older, more productive cod, for investigation of the distinction between genetic subpopulations, and for research on the effects of global climate change on cod populations.
  • Researchers set out from Brewster this week attempting to tag and track nine gray seals. The tags will record and transmit the position and depth of the seal, as well as the ambient water temperature. These data may contribute to an understanding of the distribution and behavior of seals and help clarify the interactions between fish populations, seals, and great white sharks. The scientists will also collect tissue samples that will help determine the diet and health of the seal population.
  • The Nature Conservancy has collaborated with New Hampshire Fisheries Sectors to purchase two groundfish permits for the New Hampshire fleet. The quota attached to the permits will be distributed to New Hampshire fishermen with provisions attached that promote cooperative research and the reduction of bycatch and habitat impacts. The partnership will also help keep groundfish permits in the hands of local fishing communities.
  • Pew Environment Group’s Dr. John Crawford wrote to the Gloucester Daily Times this week in response to an editorial implying he had unfair influence on the NEFMC’s scientific process. Crawford noted that he had only participated in NEFMC meetings through opportunities for public attendance and participation open to all citizens. He also reinforced the strength of the scientific evidence showing groundfish stocks at troublingly low levels.

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