In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, September 20

Barnstable police say they have identified the culprit in last summer's string of oyster farm robberies. Photo credit: Chefs Collaborative

  • The State of New Hampshire has joined Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley’s suit to raise catch limits for groundfish stocks. The state has filed a motion to act as an intervener in the action, which argues that NOAA did not adequately consider economic factors when implementing scientifically mandated cuts to catch limits. New Hampshire has said that the sharper cuts to inshore stocks will have a disproportionate impact on smaller fishing vessels, and since New Hampshire’s fleet is composed more small boats than Massachusetts’ more diverse, larger fleet, the state must intervene to protect its fishermen’s interests.
  • On Monday, the Coast Guard suspended its search for a reported missing fishing vessel near Mount Desert Rock. The night before, the Coast Guard received a report of a 55-foot vessel taking on water with two crew members on board, but heard no other transmissions. The search covered 2,000 square miles but found no sign of the vessel.
  • A recently released report on the 2009 sinking of scallop boat Lady Mary makes 45 recommendations for improving commercial fishing vessel safety, including expanding stability tests and ensuring all emergency beacons can transmit GPS locations. Members of the Coast Guard’s inquiry team are now working to implement these recommendations through the federal rulemaking process.
  • During last week’s House Natural Resources hearing on the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Congressmen Don Young asked stakeholders about the effectiveness of the Marine Stewardship Council certification process, which certifies seafood produced from some fisheries as sustainable based on its own set of criteria. Responses indicated a desire for alternate certification schemes and a consistent definition of sustainability. This week, Senator Lisa Murkowski introduced legislation that would prohibit federal agencies from requiring seafood to be certified sustainable by an NGO. The measure is a response to the National Park Service’s recent decision to use only seafood considered a ‘Best Choice’ or ‘Good Alternative’ by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch list or certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. Murkowski and others have argued that it is inappropriate for the federal government to use third-party sustainability standards. Much of the opposition to MSC stems from the Alaskan salmon fishery, in which some 40 of the state’s salmon processors decided to stop seeking MSC certification due to its high cost and long process.
  • After an outbreak of the bacterial illness Vibrio forced Massachusetts to close down oyster beds near Duxbury earlier this month, the state announced a second closure on Martha’s Vineyard on Monday. Vibrio infections cause gastrointestinal problems and are usually contracted from eating raw shellfish and can. Vibrio is a relatively new problem for Massachusetts, and its increased occurrence could be linked to rising water temperatures. Oyster growers are struggling with the ongoing shutdown, which currently affects 14 percent of Massachusetts operators. Don Merry of Merry Oysters says he stands to lose $25,000 per month if the ban continues. Regulators say the beds could reopen by early October.
  • UMass Dartmouth’s Brian Rothschild and Integrated Statistics’ Glenn Chamberlain have filed a patent for a new electronic monitoring system. The technology would take stereo images of a vessel’s fish catch and use the images to determine the species caught, fish lengths, and the total volume of fish as a proxy for weight. Accurate electronic monitoring systems could eventually be implemented to partially replace or expand the current at-sea observer program.
  • Rothschild has also co-authored a new paper in ICES Journal of Marine Science calling for changes to stock assessment models that he says would help New England’s groundfish fishery attain optimum yield. In particular, the paper criticizes the adherence to “a single species interpretation of multiple-species yield” and the calculation of appropriate fishing mortality rates. The study concludes that flawed assessments are leading to overly optimistic projections and unhealthily high mortality levels, and that a multi-species approach to assessment models will be critical to reaching optimum yield.
  • Local charter boat operators say that a proposal to close part of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary to recreational fishing would put them out of business. The proposal, part of the New England Fishery Management Council’s ongoing Omnibus Habitat Amendment process, would create a Dedicated Habitat Research Area on Stellwagen Bank, a small portion of which would be closed to recreational as well as commercial groundfish fishing. At a meeting held this week about the proposal, charter boat captains said the move would hurt their businesses, while NEFMC executive director Tom Nies said the move was necessary to create controlled areas for fisheries research.
  • This summer’s shrimp index for Gulf of Maine shrimp was the lowest on record since trawl surveys began in 1984, with a notable lack of young shrimp. Regulators may choose to shut down the fishery for this winter when they meet in April. Last season was unusually short and reflected a 74 percent cut in catch compared to the previous year; populations appear to have declined even further.

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