In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, August 8

North Atlantic Right Whale skim feeding in Cape Cod Bay. Photo by Brian Skerry.

  • NOAA released preliminary information updating an assessment of the cod population in the Gulf of Maine indicating the percent of the population capable of reproducing is 3-4% of the target for sustainability. The Boston Globe reports that spawning rates are down from 13-18% just since the 2011 assessment. Those earlier assessments previously forced the NEFMC to cut the Gulf of Maine annual cod fishing quota by 80%. Conservation groups are urging the fishery council to view this unfortunate news as another reason to preserve current protections on critical marine habitats.
  • A study published in the Ecological Society of America found that the role of whales in ocean health is crucial. Scientists determined that whales facilitate the flow of Nitrogen and Iron through their feeding, excretion and migratory patterns. Whales dive to feed at great depths and their ascension for oxygen forces the water column to stir, mixing nutrients in the water. Whale urea and fecal plumes were found to enrich the ocean with important nutrient quantities, fertilizing plankton. When a whale dies naturally, its carcass provides nutrients for bottom-level organisms. One speculates on what the decimation of New England whales in the 1700’s-1800’s has cost the region in systemic nutrient losses.
  • There are approximately 1,000 breeding pairs of endangered Atlantic puffins in Maine. According to the National Audubon Society, the numbers of puffin pairs on Seal Island that produced fledglings able to fly dropped from 77% success (2007-11) to 10% (2013). Audubon’s Steve Kress believes the decline in successfully fledged chicks is related to changes in forage fish availability as a result of increasing Gulf of Maine water temperatures from climate change. Audubon has developed a “citizen science project,”asking citizens to help monitor three web cameras set up on Seal Island, one of the key puffin habitats.
  • A team of marine biologists observed a couple hundred mature menhaden dying or dead on the Seekonk River. Tom Kutcher, baykeeper for Save The Bay said the team found the menhaden “gulping for air at the surface.” The Seekonk River flows into the head of the Providence River at the head of the Narragansett Bay. The team measured poor oxygen levels throughout the entire water column. Contributing factors for poor water quality in the Seekonk River include nutrient loading from stormwater pipes and upstream wastewater plants.
  • New federal regulations banning the use of lobster trap and pot gear from January 1 to April 30 along most of Massachusetts’s coast have been issued. The regulations are a part of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s new Atlantic Whale Take Reduction Plan to decrease whale entanglements in lobster fishing gear. The Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association and state officials intend to challenge the new rules.
  • A study by University of New England professor James Sulikowski suggests that the spiny dogfish population in the Gulf of Maine is likely well above previous estimates. Using satellite tags to track the migration of 40 dogfish, Sulikowski reports that there is a year-round presence of spiny dogfish in New England waters. Dogfish typically exist in packs of 10,000 or more and have been thought as bottom-dwellers, but Sulikowski’s research showed movement throughout the water column which would affect the spiny dogfish population estimates based on trawler surveys.

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