In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, April 11

New research suggests over 20% of seafood imported by the US is caught illegally. Photo credit: NOAA

  • Last Friday, Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled on two cases brought by Conservation Law Foundation and Earthjustice in response to NOAA’s groundfish regulations for the 2013 fishing year. The first case related to a rule in Framework 50 allowing fishing sectors to carry over a portion of their uncaught quota from the previous season. The judge ruled in favor of CLF and Earthjustice, arguing that this rule effectively authorized fishing at levels exceeding scientific advice and so violated the Magnuson-Stevens Act.  The second related to the process allowing sectors to apply for access to closed areas under Framework 48. Here, the judge ruled in favor of the agency, arguing that the creation of this rule through a Framework did not violate the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and that any decisions about a NEPA violation were “not yet ripe for review” until specific exemptions to the closed area rules were granted. Pat Fiorelli of the New England Fishery Management Council indicated that the Council is happy with the outcome of that case, while CLF’s Greg Cunningham said the decision left open the possibility of destructive bottom trawling in thousands of square miles of protected habitat prior to the completion of a more rigorous environmental analysis.
  • On Tuesday, Judge Richard Stearns of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled against a suit brought by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley; the suit was also joined by New Hampshire, and the Center for Sustainable Fisheries filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs earlier this week. The suit argued that NOAA’s lowered catch limits for the 2013 fishing year did not adequately consider economic impacts and failed to use the best available science. Judge Stearns determined that the suit did not prove NMFS had ignored superior scientific information in setting catch limits, reinforcing the distinction between “the best scientific data available” and “the best scientific data possible.” Martha Coakley said her office is considering an appeal and that she believes “fishing communities have been subject to over-burdensome regulations and overzealous enforcement by the federal government.”
  • New research published in Marine Policy this week suggests more than 20% of wild-caught seafood imported into the US may be illegally caught. Fish caught through illegal and unreported fishing activities and imported into the United States in 2011 are valued at $1.3-$2.1 billion, and this trade to the US accounts for between 4% and 16% of the global illegal fish catch. Fisheries with particularly high rates of illegal catch include Thai tuna and pollock and salmon from China. The report says it “reveals the unintentional role of the USA…in funding the profits of illegal fishing” and recommends improved chain of custody and traceability controls. A spokesperson for NOAA said while the agency agrees pirate fishing is a problem, they do not agree with the report’s findings, while a spokesperson for the National Fisheries Institute said the report relies too heavily on anecdotal evidence. World Wildlife Fund representatives, meanwhile, said the report “reinforces what the fishing industry, governments and conservationists have been saying for a long time: illegal fishing is a major global problem” and called for improved traceability.
  • Meanwhile, on April 2, the United States Senate ratified two international treaties to fight pirate fishing. One, the Port State Measures Agreement, would restrict ships from using ports if they are suspected of fishing illegally; the other would create an international organization to regulate fishing in the North Pacific. The treaties are the first ratified by the Senate since 2010.
  • A coalition of environmental groups has sued the federal government to expand habitat protections for North Atlantic right whales. The suit seeks to expand the federally designated critical habitat for right whales from roughly 4,000 square miles to more than 50,000 square miles to include nursery, breeding, and feeding grounds as well as migration routes; protections in these areas would include restrictions on commercial fishing, vessel traffic, and oil drilling to ensure these activities do not interfere with whale recovery. The groups have been requesting that NMFS expand this critical habitat since 2009, and say the agency has “dragged its feet for far too long.”
  • An article in Providence Business News puts forth ecosystem-based fishery management as a framework to address the effects of climate change on fish populations. Rhode Island fishermen and scientists have noticed shifts in fish distribution due to warming waters, as some cold-water species move north and offshore and other warmer-water species like cobia and croaker become more common in New England. Ecosystem-based management, rather than managing a single stock, incorporates these environmental changes—as well as predator-prey effects and other factors like habitat protection—into a “whole-system approach” to managing fisheries.
  • The Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences have been selected to compete for NASA funding. The proposed project would develop models for real-time estimates of fish and invertebrate distribution in the Gulf of Maine using satellite and ground observations; the scientists working on the project say it could help managers respond to changes in conditions due to climate change, particularly related to the lobster fishery.  Twenty-eight states are competing for funding; up to 15 proposals will be selected.
  • The bay scallop fishery in Nantucket Bay had a strong season, with local fishermen landing 14,500 bushels of scallops during a five month season. The area’s fishery has benefited from a scallop propagation program that spawns scallops in a hatchery before releasing them into the island’s harbors. Maine’s four month scallop season, meanwhile, resulted in the highest landings and revenues since the state began compiling records in 2008. State officials and fishermen credited a relatively new management system that uses rotational closures with improving scallop catch.
  • As alewife populations recover due to increased conservation efforts like dam removals, the alewife fishery may be booming too. Alewives are commonly used as lobster bait, and with experts indicating the population could increase by five times, fishermen are eager to harvest them. Some say they are eager to restore old markets for alewives, like cat food, fertilizer, and smoked fish. Still, fishermen and officials are concerned about the effects of climate change and at-sea incidental catch by the sea herring industry on alewife populations.
  • Maine’s elver season began on Sunday under a new management system that involves individual quotas for both tribal and non-tribal fishermen and a swipe card system to monitor catch and cut down on illegal harvesting. The new regulations should result in a 35 percent reduction in catch.
  • An effort led by the Center for Coastal Studies to recover lost fishing gear was a success. During the seven-day cleanup, crews recovered nearly ten tons of debris from the ocean floor of Provincetown, including 320 lost lobster traps.


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