In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, June 7

New England's longfin squid may be at risk due to ocean acidification. Photo: Josh Cummings/New England Ocean Odyssey

  • Ocean acidification could have a dramatic impact on squid, according to a new study from scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The researchers found that squid eggs held in more acidic water took longer to develop, grew to smaller sizes, and had misshapen statoliths—carbonate crystal-based organisms that may help squid control their movement. Squid are ecologically a keystone species, and they are also commercially important, particularly in New England—Rhode Island alone has a $20 million/year fishery for shortfin and longfin squid. This research suggests that ocean acidification may have a significant impact on the health of squid populations.
  • The Gulf of Maine’s puffins may be in serious trouble. Scientists say that increasing numbers of the seabirds are dying of starvation, and dozens of emaciated birds have been found washed up on beaches along the east coast. In addition, fewer eggs are producing chicks, and more chicks are dying before they reach maturity. Depleted populations of Atlantic herring—puffins’ primary prey—are likely behind this troubling trend. Rising sea temperatures could be a contributing factor, with early plankton blooms contributing to fast growth of butterfish, which have been replacing herring in the puffins’ diet. Razorbills and terns also appear to be in distress.
  • After announcing several weeks ago that thousands of NOAA workers would be assigned four-day furloughs as part of sequester budget cuts, Acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan has now cancelled the furloughs. The agency announced that it had found other ways to meet its spending cut targets. The cancellations were largely motivated by the desire to avoid furloughing National Weather Service employees following a particularly active tornado season.
  • Tribal, state, and federal leaders met with environmental groups and other members of the public this week to celebrate the reopening of the Grand Falls Dam fish ladder on the St. Croix River to alewives. Since 1995, the fishways have been blocked, limiting spawning alewives to 2 percent of their native spawning habitat on the St. Croix River. This caused a precipitous decline in numbers of these important forage fish, which support numerous other species like seabirds and cod. In April, Maine’s legislature passed LD 72, an emergency bill sponsored by Passamaquoddy Tribal Representative Madonna Soctomah, which immediately opened fishways along the St. Croix to river herring. The reopening of the fishways is expected to have tremendous ecological and economic benefits.
  • Omega Protein—by far the largest harvester and processor of menhaden—has been assessed $5.5 million in penalties for violations of the Clean Water Act as part of a plea agreement approved by the U.S. District Court. The company will also update its fleet and pay for $2 million in restoration project in Chesapeake Bay, where it apparently illegally dumped oily bilge water and fish waste over a period of several years. The fine is one of the largest in Virginia in the history of the Clean Water Act.
  • The Maine Legislature is seeking a $3.5 million bond to subsidize the purchase of permits in the state’s Groundfish Permit Bank. The bill would allow fishermen to purchase additional permits—and the groundfish quota attached to them—to ease the impacts of cuts to catch limits. The bill joins a second proposed measure to allow Maine’s groundfishermen to keep and sell lobsters caught in federal waters.
  • Fourteen sea scallop research projects have received a total of $12.5 million in grants through the 2013 Sea Scallop Research Set-Aside program, administered by NOAA. The majority of the grants went to researchers at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science and Technology, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and the Coonamessett Farm Foundation. Funded projects include research on the impacts of the industry on sea turtles, bycatch surveys and prevention methods, and new stock assessment techniques. The grants are funded by portions of scallop industry revenues.

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