In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, February 21

The Hopewell Mills dam site on Taunton's Mill River after removal. 51 dams were removed in the US in 2013, according to National Geographic. Photo: MA EEA

  • On Tuesday, the Maine Department of Marine Resources announced a closure of seven square miles of the Penobscot River to lobster and crab harvesting due to elevated mercury levels. Mercury in lobsters caught in the area was found to exceed safe levels; the contamination is believed to stem from pollution by the HoltraChem plant that operated in Orrington from 1967 to 2000. Researchers detected hazardous mercury levels as early as eight years ago, but DMR was not made aware of these results until November, when it examined findings from a study ordered by a federal court as a result of an earlier lawsuit against Mallinckrodt Inc., the owner of the HoltraChem plant. The closure will last at least two years.
  • NOAA fish biologist John Manderson is mapping shifts in butterfish distribution caused by climate change as part of the stock assessment process for this species. His work includes modeling fine-scale changes in ocean temperatures, collaborating with fishermen, and working with stock assessment scientists to incorporate measures of temperature changes into population models. So far, this research indicates that butterfish have shifted north and offshore since 2006.
  • In November, New Bedford community activist Adrian Ventura proposed to Mayor Jon Mitchell a bus route for the immigrants that work in New Bedford’s fish houses. There is currently no public transit along the waterfront, forcing many workers to walk through unsafe areas of town to get to work. Mayor Mitchell suggested a private bus service funded by the seafood companies. In an informal poll of six fish houses by the New Bedford Standard-Times, two said they might support such a service, while the others did not respond or said they were not interested.
  • Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association president Christopher Brown wrote to the Providence Journal this week to comment on the debate over the Bristol Bay Pebble Mine project. Fishermen’s efforts to thwart the mine proposal and protect salmon populations, he says, are a familiar struggle between “the needs of the global economy versus that of a local community.” He goes on to call BOEM’s potential lease of marine areas for offshore energy and mining “The Rhode Island fishing community[’s]…own Pebble Mine.”
  • A new archeological dataset of fish bones from sites in Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington may provide a new perspective on the long-term health of fish populations. In particular, the great abundance of herring bones collected at these sites suggests that herring was a critical food species for much of the last 2500 years, establishing an “ecological baseline” to which the current depleted status of herring can be compared and extending the current 60 to 80 year time series that informs our current understanding of historic herring abundance.
  • A New York Times editorial highlights the recent study that identified five factors that may determine the success of marine protected areas in rebuilding fish populations. The editorial says that although many MPAs perform poorly in these five metrics and have not achieved conservation goals, “the worst conclusion to reach from this eye-opening report would be to dismiss the value of marine-protected areas.” Instead, scientists and policymakers should work together to improve protected area design and implementation.
  • The Center for American Progress’s Michael Conathan wrote to the Boston Globe to discuss possible distribution schemes for the $75 million in fisheries disaster aid recently appropriated by Congress. He says that individual payments to fishermen are an easy and tempting option but will not contribute to long-term recovery. He instead recommends a buyback of groundfish permits to reduce the number of active fishermen, but says it must be carefully structured to avoid favoring large vessels or shifting fishing pressure onto other species.
  • Local charter fishermen have spoken out against a potential alternative in the New England Fishery Management Council’s Omnibus Habitat Amendment that could close a 73 square mile area on Stellwagen Bank to recreational hook and line fishing to create a research area. The Council will consider many alternatives at its meeting next week, but charter boat captains warned that this proposal would seriously cut their profits from cod fishing trips and would force boats into more dangerous waters farther from land.
  • An op-ed in Long Island Newsday says that regulations on Long Island’s fisheries are overly restrictive and slow to respond to changes in fish populations. The piece suggests one part of a solution could be passage of the New York Fair Fishing Act, which would grant New York membership to the New England Fishery Management Council in addition to its current place on the Mid-Atlantic Council.
  • The Massachusetts Development Finance Agency plans to add two berths to Gloucester’s fish pier at a cost of $100,000, increasing the pier’s capacity to 58 commercial vessels. Construction on the berths, which will accommodate vessels up to 50 feet in length, is expected to begin in September. Gloucester officials called the plan a sign of optimism and a “vote of confidence.”
  • Fifty-one dams were removed from rivers in 18 states last year, according to National Geographic, including three dam removals each in Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont. This river restoration, in addition to removing outdated and or unstable structures, will help restore populations of freshwater and anadromous fish. 

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