In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, August 1

Soft-shell clams, Photo by Stephen Ritchie via Flickr

  • The revised draft of the Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization bill released by Alaska Senator Mark Begich last week would allow US domestic seafood sellers the right to label any fish caught under an approved management plan as “sustainable.”Proponents assert that requirements under Magnuson have produced sustainable fishery management conditions, providing justification for suppliers to label their product as sustainable. Others, however, expressed concern that this new provision would allow too many fisheries to call their practices sustainable, and continue to support third-party certification systems like the Marine Stewardship Council’s. The bill also asks the Secretary of Commerce to conduct a cost benefit analysis of establishing a seafood marketing program.
  • The most recent Senate draft of a Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization bill would also add Rhode Island to the list of seven states with voting representation on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Rhode Island already holds a seat on the New England Fishery Management Council, but feels the increasing distribution of mid-Atlantic species in southern New England has made the attainment of a seat on the MAFMC vital for Rhode Island fisheries. According to the assistant to the director at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, 41 out of 65 million pounds of Rhode Islands’ annual commercial landings involve species managed by the MAFMC. Those 41 million pounds value around $36.5 million of squid, scup, summer flounder, black sea bass, butterfish and mackerel. Senator Jack Reed’s office, which introduced the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Fairness Act on October 6, 2005 to secure Rhode Island voting representation on the MAFMC, says a seat on the council will enable Rhode Island to fully participate in fishery management plans for mid-Atlantic stocks.
  • A recent extensive analysis of bird diets and population trends linked the abundance of forage fish to the population health of marine birds. The study found that marine bird populations relying entirely on forage fish, such as herring, were up to 16 times more likely to be at risk as compared to birds relying on non schooling bottom-dwellers. Birds diving for forage fish were found much more likely to have a declining population trend.
  • Cape Cod lobstermen say rules recently released by NOAA requiring lobstermen to fish with more than one trap on each vertical line will cause safety problems. The regulations are intended to prevent North Atlantic right whale entanglements by reducing the number of lobster buoy lines in the water. Lobstermen say a requirement of at least two traps on a line increases the likelihood that fishermen could be entangled or pulled overboard. In a survey of 103 lobstermen, 73 percent reported they had been entangled in their own gear. Presently right whales, whose endangered population is numbered at around 500, face entanglement with nearly half a million lobster pot and fishing gear lines.
  • Cape Cod fishermen continue to advocate for a reconsideration of the protection of gray seals in exchange for what they view as protection of their livelihood. The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act has facilitated the recovery of the gray seal population, hunted to near extinction in the 1960s. 800 pound gray seals can consume up to 50 pounds of fish in one day, making this predator Cape Cod fisheries’ primary competitor. Scientists contend the seal population is returning to healthy, normal levels, rather than becoming overly abundant.
  • In an interview with the Boston Globe, Paul Greenberg, author of American Catch, the Fight for Our Local Seafood, discusses why the United States imports 90 percent of its seafood. Greenberg proposes several factors contributing to the decline of domestic fish, including the damming of waterways, loss of fertile marshland, and increasing coastal sprawl. To elucidate why the US exports a third of our local production even while importing 90 percent of our seafood, Greenberg cites an American attraction to affordable and mild seafood. Greenberg suggests the best thing to do to improve productivity along the US coast is to eat more oysters, clams and mussels, all of which also provide habitat for other marine life and improve water quality.
  • Local business owners report the heavy rain season this year in Maine is reflected in clam and shellfish prices across the South Coast of New England. Rain closures that forced fishermen to stay out of clam beds to avoid contamination due to runoff, coinciding with high demand, have driven up the price of soft-shell clams, affecting both wholesale and retail consumers. Brad Higson, an owner of Higson Seafood in Fall River, reported he has never seen clam prices this high in the store’s 63 years of operating.

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