In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, September 6

Scientists are stumped by Atlantic killifish in New Bedford Harbor, which appear to be resistant to PCB toxiciity. Photo: Brian Gratwicke/Wikimedia Commons

  • A report released by the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council this week highlights progress made in rebuilding fish stocks since the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The report says that 43 percent of stocks are rebuilt or have made significant progress in the past 10 years, while another 31 percent are on track to rebuild. But the report also indicated that 26 percent of stocks continue to be overfished to poor assessments and enforcement. It makes several recommendations for accommodating uncertainty, including basing rebuilding plans on target fishing levels, rather than target stock sizes, and imposing gradually smaller catch limits as soon as stocks begin to show signs of overfishing. The report was requested by Congress.
  • An opinion piece by Environmental Defense Fund’s Sarah Smith, published in the Portland Press Herald, argues that the groundfish closed areas are a critical component to building resilience to climate change for New England’s fisheries. As the distribution of fish species shifts in response to warming waters, areas protected from commercial fishing will help fish adapt to new environmental conditions. Fish in closed areas grow older and larger and are more resilient to environmental stress.
  • An opinion piece in the Newburyport News points out the noticeable changes in the distribution of fish species in New England. In the past several years, bonito and black sea bass—which were once common only in Southern New England waters—have been frequently sighted in the Isle of Shoals area and in the Gulf of Maine. Meanwhile, species like pandalid shrimp have migrated farther north, and right whales have scattered as plankton distribution changes.
  • Squid have also been moving north. Fishermen and boaters have noticed a boom of longfin squid along Massachusetts’ North Shore. The species was previously common south of Cape Cod, but only present in smaller numbers in waters to the north. The sudden abundance of squid has caused towns to impose new restrictions on recreational squid angling.
  • Maine’s seafood harvest in 2012 was worth a record $528 million. 65% of this revenue came from the lobster fishery, despite plummeting prices. Maine’s overwhelming dependence on lobster has led scientists and officials to recommend diversifying the state’s fishery, since the lobster monoculture is very vulnerable to disease and environmental stress.
  • Next week, UMass Large Pelagics Research Center scientists will head to sea to begin tagging juvenile bluefin tuna. They anticipate the 55 digital tags will provide information about migratory patterns, behavior, and reproduction. The scientists are collaborating with local commercial fishermen to find and catch the tuna.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service will no longer stock the Merrimack River with Atlantic salmon. Officials say the program has produced low population returns, and there is little chance that Atlantic salmon populations will rebuild in the river. The agency will shift resources to shad restoration.
  • The New England Fishery Management Council has released the agenda for its September 24-26 meeting in Hyannis, MA. Topics will include the development of the Omnibus Habitat Amendment, transboundary groundfish stock assessments, and updates from the scallop, monkfish, skate, and herring committees.
  • The State of Massachusetts closed 40 oyster beds between Marshfield and Plymouth in response to an outbreak of vibrio. The Department of Public Health has also recalled oysters from those areas collected after July 22. Vibrio causes gastrointestinal distress and is commonly linked to consumption of raw shellfish.  Increasing incidence of the bacterial infection has been linked to warming waters.
  • Scientists are puzzled by the killifish in heavily polluted New Bedford Harbor. The fish are contaminated with levels of PCBs well over the lethal limit for the species, but they seem to be thriving. The scientists guess that the fish have developed a tolerance to PCBs, beginning in the 1940s when the industrial pollution of the harbor began. Nearly all fish caught in New Bedford harbor are considered unsafe to eat due to contamination.


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