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In the News
Fish Talk in the News – Friday, November 29
A new fishing rope design may help protect endangered North Atlantic right whales. Photo: Brian Skerry/New England Ocean Odyssey.
- The extremely small spring plankton blooms observed by NOAA in 2013 are likely affecting marine life farther up the food chain. NEFSC scientist Kevin Friedland thinks the record low levels of phytoplankton on the Northeast Shelf could explain the slow recovery of overfished cod stocks, and this low productivity could also harm hake, right whales, and other species. Prior to this year, plankton productivity was on an upward trend, but the unusual and unpredictable timing of the blooms already had scientists concerned. The announcement from NOAA inspired a letter to the Gloucester Daily Times in which the writer called for cautious fisheries management in the face of climate change and redoubled efforts to improve fisheries science.
- North Atlantic right whales are conspicuously absent from their usual feeding grounds, which stretch from Buzzards Bay to the Canadian border. Roughly 500 of the whales remain in the wild. A 2011-2012 survey of the feeding grounds counted 419 whales; the next year, scientists counted just 50 whales. The first month of this year’s survey has resulted in just one whale sighting. The decline in sightings may be linked to changes in the size or distribution of plankton blooms, particularly a single zooplankton species, Calanus finmarchius.
- Fishermen this week reacted to last week’s NEFMC meeting, at which the Council failed to take action on a proposal that would shut down the large-boat midwater herring fishery until NOAA or the industry could provide observer coverage for all midwater trawl trips. While fishermen say that the herring fleet threatens the health of haddock stocks and has the potential to “strain the ocean dry until there is nothing left,” NOAA argued that it cannot support the cost of the proposed observer coverage. Roughly 30 percent of herring trips are currently monitored by an at-sea observer.
- At the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, held in Cape Town, South Africa, the Commission maintained the current bluefin tuna quotas for both the western and eastern Atlantic. The Commission did not implement any of the proposed shark conservation measures, including catch limits for blue and mako sharks and an effective ban on shark finning.
- Maine’s inshore scallop fishery is recovering, with 2012 revenues at their highest level for over a decade. Maine has pursued strict conservation measures for the fishery since 2009, with a system of rotating closures and daily bag limits. The number of active scallop licenses has risen from around 250 to more than 400 in response to the rebuilding of scallop populations.
- In a report released last week, the ASMFC said it will recommend a complete moratorium on Gulf of Maine shrimp fishing in 2014 to allow populations to recover. Stock assessments show shrimp populations are at record low levels, with three straight years of poor recruitment and ongoing overfishing causing a population collapse. Last year, the fishery caught just 307 metric tons of its already drastically reduced 625 metric ton limit. The ASMFC’s recommendation will now be considered by the Northern Shrimp Section, which will set catch limits and the fishing schedule for the 2014 season.
- Gloucester’s Large Pelagics Research Center, which conducts research on tuna and other large, migratory species, is in the midst of a funding crisis. The Center’s director Molly Lutcavage says it is in danger of closing in 2014 without an additional $1.3 million in funding. The Center is currently affiliated with UMass, but is considering seeking sponsorship by MIT or UNH.
- The Maine Department of Marine Resources announced the appointment of board members for the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. The new marketing initiative is intended to promote Maine lobster and help fishermen garner higher prices for their catch. Board members include marketing professionals, lobster harvesters and processors, and state officials.
- A New York Times op-ed focuses on the plight of the red knot, a seabird that depends on horseshoe crabs for survival. In the middle of their annual migration from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic, red knots pause in Delaware Bay to eat the eggs of spawning horseshoe crabs. As horseshoe crab populations have declined, so have red knot numbers in Delaware Bay, falling by 70 percent since the early 1980s. Horseshoe crabs are used both as bait for other fisheries and to produce a biomedical agent that tests for bacterial contamination. The op-ed calls for the ASMFC to take more action to protect horseshoe crabs, particularly by reducing mortality from the biomedical industry, to help restore red knot populations.