In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, February 28

NOAA announced this week it will cover the full cost of observers on Northeast sector vessels in 2014 (Credit: NOAA Fisheries Service/NEFSC/Fisheries Sampling Branch)

  • NOAA announced this week that it will cover the full cost of at-sea observers for Northeast sector vessels for fishing year 2014, heeding recommendations by the New England Fishery Management Council. NOAA will maintain the current 26 percent observer coverage for groundfish trips. New England’s Congressional delegation commended the announcement, with Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey saying the decision “means we can learn more about what’s happening in the ocean without imposing extra burdens on our struggling fishermen.”
  • On Thursday, NOAA announced how it would divide the $75 million in fisheries disaster aid recently appropriated by Congress. New England will receive $32.8 million. The Department of Commerce also waived the requirement that states match 25 percent of federal funds received, a move that Governor Patrick and the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation pushed for last week. The Massachusetts Delegation praised the announcement, but said they would now turn to ensuring local fishermen receive the funds as quickly as possible. The states will still need to develop spend plans and grant applications for the funding, and a 2-3 month review will follow the development of these plans before funds become available. Meanwhile, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell wrote to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker recommending that the funds be used for cooperative research, retraining programs, loan assistance, and onshore infrastructure.
  • The New England Fishery Management Council met this week to select preferred alternatives for its Omnibus Habitat Amendment, which is intended to revise the current set of groundfish closed areas and create new closures to protect fish habitat and populations. Prior to the meeting, a letter to the Gloucester Daily Times called for the Council to open the Northern Edge area on Georges Bank to allow more access to the scallops in the area, charter fishermen opposed a closure to recreational fishing on an area of Stellwagen Bank, and environmental groups and many fishermen called for maintained or expanded closures to protect fish populations. NOAA indicated it would support the consideration of a package including current closures in the Western Gulf of Maine. At the two-day meeting in Danvers, the Council selected preferred alternatives including current closures in the Western Gulf of Maine, new closures in the Eastern Gulf of Maine, and a significantly smaller area in the Central Gulf of Maine, which would exclude much of the current closure around Cashes Ledge. For Georges Bank and the Great South Channel area, the Council debated current options and selected new alternatives for analysis but did not select preferred alternatives.
  • Maine scientists have reversed their statement that state officials knew about high mercury levels in the Penobscot River years before they closed the area to lobster and crab fishing last week. Last week, scientists said they had shared the contamination findings with officials as early as 2008, but last Friday, they said data showing levels of mercury high enough to require immediate action had not been shared until 2013. The state has ordered a two-year closure of fishing in a 7 square mile area as a result of mercury contamination from the now defunct HoltraChem plant in Orrington.
  • An article published in the Telegraph this week focuses on Cape Cod’s shortage of its namesake fish. The piece says a combination of overfishing and seal predation has depleted the cod population. It mentions the $75 million in recently appropriated disaster aid and suggests it could be used to buy back groundfish permits, and also suggests strengthening the market for relatively abundant dogfish as a promising possibility.
  • New research by New Hampshire scientists indicates that the collection of horseshoe crab blood for the biomedical industry may cause short-term behavioral changes that can harm crab populations. The medical industry harvests the blood for use in pharmaceuticals, including a derivative that fights bacterial contamination in vaccines and equipment. Generally, horseshoe crabs are caught and transported, about 30 percent of their blood is collected, and they are then released; 20 to 30 percent of the crabs do not survive the process. The new research finds that even in crabs that do survive, for two weeks after the procedure, the crabs move less frequently and with different patterns, suggesting they are disoriented and may be less likely to breed. Crab populations are declining in Delaware and Cape Cod.
  • The United States has called for a moratorium on high-seas fishing in the Arctic. Climate change has reduced ice cover in the Arctic and opened some areas to trawling for the first time. At a three-day international meeting in Greenland, the US is proposing an agreement that would close international Arctic waters to commercial fishing until baseline fishery data is established. Greenland and Canada support the agreement, but Russia and Norway have not joined.
  • The Economist and National Geographic hosted a World Ocean Summit this week in California, where world leaders met to discuss marine science and sustainability. Secretary of State John Kerry called for a major global expansion of marine reserves from the current three percent of oceans to ten percent. He also urged countries to cooperate on fisheries management, pollution control, and climate change science. The Economist published a piece to coincide with the Summit saying the condition of global oceans is deteriorating, with dead zones spreading and fish stocks depleted. It called for new rules to balance short-term individual interests against the common good, including an end to fishing subsidies, a global registry of fishing vessels, and more marine reserves, as well as improved international enforcement through the creation of a UN World Oceans Organization.

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