In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, March 29

Gray seals appeal to tourists, but many fishermen regard them as pests. Photo credit:Brian Skerry

  • Following the release of the draft sector operations and Framework 48 rules over the past two weeks, NOAA this week released the draft version of Framework 50, which will also be subject to a 15-day public comment period. This rule will set the catch limits for New England groundfish stocks for the next 1-3 years, and includes the controversial but legally and biologically necessary cuts to cod catch limits. It also contains the guidelines for allowing sectors to carry over a portion of their unused quote from Fishing Year 2012 to 2013—in past years, the carryover level has been set at 10 percent for all years, but the proposed rule reduces this level to 2 percent for Gulf of Maine cod to avoid overfishing and considers options for clarifying carryover rules before 2014. The draft rule also opposes NEFMC’s attempt to set the catch for Georges Bank yellowtail flounder—a resource shared with Canada—at 1150mt, higher than the acceptable catch indicated by the Transboundary Management Guidance Committee. NMFS chose to propose a catch limit of 500mt, in compliance with the transboundary agreement.
  • Fishermen and policymakers discussed the problems created by the resurgence of gray seals around Cape Cod at a symposium held Saturday in Chatham. The latest assessments indicate the seal population has rebounded from 5,611 in 1999 to 15,756 in 2011, leading to complaints that the seals eat valuable fish, destroy fishing gear, and attract sharks. Fishermen also noted that the seals may carry worms that infect cod, killing them or reducing their value, and that their waste may create water quality problems. Meanwhile, scientists say they do not have adequate funding to research seal populations. Approaches to the problem are all controversial—many tourists and tour operators appreciate the booming population, while some fishermen have called for a cull.
  • CNN spoke with author and conservationist Callum Roberts about the state of global fish populations. The article notes the destruction caused by bottom trawling, with Census of Marine Life scientist Ron O’Dor suggesting a global ban on bottom trawling would benefit ocean health. O’Dor also points to the effects of ocean acidification, while Roberts notes the importance of marine habitat protections.
  • Debate continues over Omega Protein’s position on the status of menhaden stocks. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission recently took action to set the first catch limits on menhaden and reduce the catch. Omega Protein, by far the largest harvester of the oily fish often used in fish oil supplements, has argued the data used by ASMFC to set these limits were inaccurate, but conservationists have argued that the evidence of overfishing is clear. Meanwhile, the US government has charged Omega Protein with releasing pollutants, including oily bulge water, into state waters multiple times between 2008 and 2010. If found guilty, the company could face hefty fines and be forced to improve its fleet and infrastructure.
  • On Monday, the Maine legislature’s Marine Resources Committee held a public hearing on two bills intended to restore alewives to the St. Croix River. One bill, supported by Governor LePage’s administration, would take a gradual approach to the restoration, while another bill introduced by Passamaquoddy Tribal Representative Madonna Soctomah would open fishways on the river immediately. The hearing included testimony from recreational fishermen who said that alewives compete with smallmouth bass, while other fly fishermen argued that bass eat the small herring. The historical presence of the fish in the watershed was also debated.
  • While a new Natural Resources Defense Council report suggests that the Magnuson-Stevens Act has been successful in rebuilding many fish stocks, New England has not matched this success, with New England cod serving as a particularly startling example of a management failure. NOAA indicates that New England currently has 11 overfished stocks, more than twice as many as any other region. The first hearings on the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act suggest that this may be due to profound failures in implementation, including lack of funding for frequent, thorough stock assessments.

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