In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, March 22

A new NRDC report says Canadian lobster and crab fisheries harm northern right whales. Photo credit: Brian Skerry/New England Ocean Odyssey

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released the draft rule for Framework Adjustment 48 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan on Friday. Among other updates to fishery management measures, the framework includes a rule that allows sectors to ask for exemptions to the current closed areas restrictions through their sector operations plans. These exemptions would allow fishermen to fish in current groundfish mortality closures, effectively reopening these areas. Public comment on the draft rule will be accepted over a 15-day period, March 25-April 6. NOAA has already released its draft rule on the sector operations plans themselves, but because Framework 48 had not yet been finalized, they chose to postpone a decision on the individual closed area exemptions until a later date, potentially after the start of the 2013 fishing year.
  • North Atlantic right whales appear to be making a comeback after decades of teetering on the brink of extinction. Scientists say the population of the whales, which were hunted heavily for their oil and baleen until 1935, has risen above 500 individuals for the first time in centuries. Still, the population is increasing by just 2.5 percent per year—far less than the ideal 6 to 7 percent. In addition, researchers remain concerned over the impacts of climate change on the whales, which may have played a role in the anomalously early appearance of a right whale and her calf in New England waters this December, and over the impact of sea noise from ships and offshore construction.
  • Some Maine lobster fishermen are seeking to unionize after a fishing season in which a massive glut of lobsters caused a precipitous drop in prices and a blockade of Maine lobster at Canadian processing plants by Canadian fishermen. They seek to gain more influence over legislation concerning marketing lobster and associated surcharges on fishing licenses, and to qualify for benefits like health insurance. 160 fishermen have so far agreed to join together.
  • New research published in Nature suggests that a traditional fisheries management method that implements minimum size limits for caught fish may be having undesirable evolutionary impacts on fish populations. Catching exclusively larger individuals may push fish to mature at an earlier age and smaller size. Because fecundity is directly linked to individual fish size, this may result in lower levels of egg production and, by extension, recruitment, making fish populations more vulnerable to overfishing and environmental change. Scientists suggest that a maximum size limit alongside a minimum could help resolve this issue, but it is often difficult to avoid catching large fish or to return the fish to the ocean while still alive. A more feasible solution may be to create and maintain marine protected areas to shelter populations of larger fish.
  • At an oversight hearing for the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which is due to be renewed in 2016, Senator Mo Cowan of Massachusetts raised concerns over NOAA’s use of funds gathered through the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act. This legislation collects tariffs on imported foreign fish, and the funds are intended to improve fisheries management and economic conditions. Senator Cowan argued that in 2010, only $8 million of the $113 million collected went to fisheries, while the remainder went into a general operations budget for NOAA.
  • Legislators in Maine continue to consider two options for a bill to restore alewives to the St. Croix River. Once option, introduced by Representative Madonna Soctomah, would immediately open the Grand Falls Dam fishway by May 1. A second bill introduced by Governor LePage’s administration would adopt a gradual approach to reintroducing the fish. The small river herring provide an important source of food to a number of species, including salmon and cod, but despite no scientific evidence to support this claim, some say they compete with smallmouth bass. A public hearing on both bills will be held on March 25 before the Joint Committee on Marine Resources in Augusta.

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