In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, September 27

Ocean acidification may affect the ability of pollock to locate their prey. Photo: NOAA

  • The New England Fishery Management Council met in Hyannis this week. Leading up to the meeting, Executive Director Tom Nies published an opinion piece in the Patriot Ledger supporting the Council’s proposed 55 square mile habitat research area on Stellwagen Bank, which would exclude all recreational and commercial fishing to provide a reference area for scientific study. Meanwhile, the New Bedford Standard-Times published an editorial in response to NOAA Regional Administrator John Bullard’s comment that “people are going to have to change” to preserve New England’s fisheries. The piece indicated that groundfishermen will need to adapt to depleted stocks, processors and marketers will need to diversify to more plentiful species, consumers must demand more local seafood, and fisheries managers must allow more regulatory flexibility.
  • At the meeting, the Council’s discussion largely focused on groundfish, river herring, and habitat. The Council implemented a 400 metric ton quota for Georges Bank yellowtail for 2014, which is the highest possible level that NMFS considered legally justifiable and very biologically risky, but lower than the 425 mt acceptable biological catch set by the Groundfish Committee. The Council also voted to set a catch cap on bycatch of river herring at the median level of bycatch over the last five years.  Management areas will be closed to midwater trawlers when 95% of the bycatch cap is reached. River herring and shad are severely depleted, and are caught incidentally by the midwater herring trawl fleet. A bycatch cap has been widely supported by environmental groups and groundfishermen, since river herring are an essential prey for many groundfish species. The Council also considered a range of habitat protection alternatives for the ongoing Omnibus Habitat Amendment process.
  • The Seattle Times published an extensive feature on ocean acidification, focusing on its effects in the Pacific. Ocean acidification, caused by rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from the burning of fossil fuels, promises to cause devastating harm to coral reefs and numerous other marine species. Changes are occurring rapidly, perhaps even at the rate of a mass extinction event. In addition to shell-building organisms like crabs and oysters, acidification may affect the ability of fish species like cod and pollock to reproduce, develop, and feed effectively. It will also harm pteropods, which are an essential link in the marine food chain.
  • A number of articles published this week focused on the effect of climate change on the distribution of fish species. New research from Rutgers conducted in waters off New Jersey shows southern species like grouper and croaker are moving north to cooler water. New England is also seeing a rise in species typically restricted to more southern waters, including cobia, croaker, and black sea bass. One Maine lobstermen has even found sea horses in his lobster traps. Cod seem to be shifting northeast, while lobsters are shedding unusually early. Some ports, like Point Judith, RI, are getting a boost from this changing species distribution—fishermen from the mid-Atlantic are following the catch north and offloading in Rhode Island. Point Judith has also seen a boom in the longfin squid fishery. An EDF opinion piece argues that areas closed to commercial fishing will limit uncertainty and help fish and fishermen adapt to the impacts of climate change.
  • UMass Dartmouth has announced a Research Support Fund in honor of former School of Marine Science and Technology Professor Brian Rothschild. The fund will support fisheries research.
  • A Massachusetts Port Authority event on Wednesday focused on revitalization of the Boston Fish Pier, in the heart of South Boston’s Innovation District. Officials said they would like to see the buildings once again filled with processers utilizing less popular but more abundant species like dogfish and redfish. On Saturday, the Boston Seafood Festival at the Bank of America Pavilion will encourage this effort and draw attention to Boston’s seafood economy.
  • Charter boat captain and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council member John McMurray published a piece for Reel-Time.com supporting the successes of the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s rebuilding timelines. McMurray responded to the recently released National Research Council report, which evaluates the 1996 reauthorization of the act, called the Sustainable Fisheries Act. McMurry disputes the report’s suggestion that 10-year rebuilding requirements for overfished stocks do not adequately consider natural mortality and environmental conditions, noting that the law already lengthens deadlines for stocks where environmental factors do not allow for rapid rebuilding. He also rejects the notion of obtaining target levels of mortality rather than target biomass, saying that stocks would rebuild too slowly under that management setup and that it would not put enough pressure on regulators to manage stocks effectively. He supports the report’s suggestion that action be taken earlier on stocks that experience a drop in population, rather than waiting until they are overfished.

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