New England Fisheries

Talking Fish’s Look Back at 2013

A red cod and cunner swim on Ammen Rock, the highest peak of Cashes Ledge. Photo credit: Brian Skerry/NEOO.

As 2013 draws to a close, let’s take a look back at some of the ups and downs of fisheries management featured on Talking Fish this year.

Debates over marine habitat protection were in full swing in 2013. The Council proposed a plan that would have opened over 5,000 square miles of protected habitat to fishing. After over 70,000 members of the public said the areas should remain closed and the Conservation Law Foundation sued the Secretary of Commerce over the proposal, NOAA eventually decided to keep habitat in the Gulf of Maine and on much of Georges Bank protected, and opened two smaller areas in the Nantucket Lightship region. Meanwhile, the Omnibus Habitat Amendment inched toward completion as the Council selected and analyzed a range of alternatives for habitat management areas.

Forage fish protection also featured strongly in 2013. Fishermen and environmentalists alike were disappointed by NOAA’s decision to reject the majority of Amendment 5, which would have required increased monitoring of the herring fleet to address bycatch of river herring and groundfish. In response, the Council considered but ultimately did not pass a motion to shut down the midwater trawl fishery without 100 percent observer coverage. NOAA also denied a petition to list river herring under the Endangered Species Act. The Mid-Atlantic Council, meanwhile, voted not to manage river herring and shad as stocks in the fishery, limiting conservation and management efforts. In September, the Council set the first catch caps for bycatch of river herring and shad by the herring trawl fleet, marking a small step forward for forage fish conservation.

Finally, the discussion of how to adapt to climate change intensified this year. 2013’s sea temperatures in the Gulf of Maine were cooler than 2012’s, but phytoplankton blooms in the Gulf of Maine were at an all-time low.  Climate change was linked to a population crash of Maine shrimp, a boom in invasive green crabs, and a shift in the range of black sea bass and many other species. Ocean acidification, meanwhile, may harm the development of larval cod and other marine life. Ecosystem-based management and habitat protection were put forth as important pieces of strategies to adapt to climate change and ocean acidification.

These discussions will carry through 2014 and beyond, particularly as Congress picks up the daunting task of reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Through all of that, Talking Fish will continue to provide news and opinion pieces on New England fisheries management.

Here are some of our picks for the top post of the year, as well as our three most-read posts of 2013.

Editor’s Picks:

  • June 6 – The Most Valuable Fishery You’ve Never Heard Of – On May 31, Maine’s elver fishing season came to a close. For the small number of Maine fishermen who can make over $100,000 in two months capturing elvers, the end of the season may come as a bit of a letdown. For the regulators and conservation officers who try to manage the fishery, however, the close probably comes none too soon.
  • August 7 – Managing Fisheries in “A Climate of Change” – The Maine nonprofit Island Institute organized the two-day symposium “A Climate of Change” to bring fishermen, scientists, fishery managers, and NGOs together to share information and ideas about how climate change is already affecting fishing, and what they can do about it.
  • October 24 – One Good Step for River Herring, Then a Stumble – There is ample science supporting measures that would prevent depleted river herring from being scooped up by the industrial trawlers targeting other fish such as Atlantic herring and mackerel. That’s why recent votes by federal and regional fisheries managers have been so frustrating. In the past month we’ve seen one good step forward followed by some serious stumbles.

Most-Read Posts of 2013:

  • January 29 – “The Fish Just Aren’t There.” – There is no question that the expected reductions in annual catch limits (ACLs) will be difficult for an industry already in a declared disaster. But while these cuts for cod and haddock limits have grabbed headlines, the real story is that there simply aren’t enough fish. The science, the catch data and many fishermen say the populations of many important species are at or near all-time lows. Fishery regulators are eager to cushion the blow to those whose livelihoods are at risk. Unfortunately, many proposals intended to help fishermen do not address the real problem—a lack of fish—and instead risk further harm to weakened fish populations.
  • February 26 – Destructive Trawling and the Myth of “Farming the Sea” – In the wake of significant but highly warranted cuts to catch limits for cod, the New England Fishery Management Council spent the last day of their most recent meeting in January discussing the development of a suite of habitat protection measures known as the Omnibus Habitat Amendment. Despite the obvious need for new habitat protections to help restore Atlantic cod populations, the Council had already taken action to potentially open over 5000 square miles of previously protected areas to destructive bottom trawling. By doing so, the Council has continued to demonstrate a lack of regard for the immeasurable documented benefits of habitat protection to the health and productivity of our fisheries.
  • April 3 – For Cod’s Sake – In this video, CLF’s Peter Shelley explains the dramatic decline of cod stocks in New England and the action that must be taken to prevent the loss of this region’s most iconic fishery. Atlantic cod populations are at an all-time historic low. The cod fishery, which for generations has supported a way of life in New England’s coastal communities, may be in complete collapse.


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