In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, January 17

Ocean acidification is threatening Maine's clam flats. Photo credit: Caleb Slemmons

  • A $1 trillion appropriations bill released by Congress on Monday includes $75 million for fisheries disaster relief. This funding will be distributed by the Commerce Department and will support fisheries with federally declared disasters in New England, the Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska. The bill does not specify how the funding will be spent. The House approved the bill on Wednesday, and the Senate is expected to vote by the end of the week.
  • Eileen Sobeck has been named assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries. On January 27, she will replace acting assistant administrator Samuel Rauch, who will return to his role as deputy assistant administrator for Regulatory Programs. Sobeck has previously served in the NOAA Office of General Counsel, in the U.S. Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division, and as deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of the Interior.
  • Next week, the New England Regional Planning Body will meet in Cambridge, MA. The meeting will include a public review, revision, and approval of goals, objectives, and accompanying actions for regional ocean planning in the Northeast, building on previous RPB discussions and public input received during the public comment period earlier this year.
  • Port services businesses are also feeling pressure from cuts to catch limits. Wilcox Marine Supply, in Stonington, CT, is closing due to lack of business from the smaller number of trawlers in the area. The Gloucester Marine Railways shipyard has cut down its number of employees. The executive director of the Port of New Bedford, however, said that port is thriving as fishermen there diversify to the strong scallop fishery.
  • Northern right whales have returned to Cape Cod Bay unusually early in the season. The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies spotted twelve whales during an aerial survey on Sunday. In recent years, the whales have been largely absent from their normal summer feeding grounds in the Gulf of Maine, but have been spotted more frequently in Cape Cod Bay, potentially due to changes in the distribution of zooplankton. They have also been appearing in Cape Cod Bay months earlier than their usual March arrival.
  • Led by the Nature Conservancy, local fishermen and scientists have been tagging cod—about 130 so far—to help identify and protect important spawning areas. The recorded information on cod habitat could be used to implement small-scale fishing closures to protect spawning cod; fisherman Frank Mirarchi says he hopes the project will help inform better management and more successful rebuilding programs. Scientists have also deployed an array of hydrophones, which will record the grunting noises characteristic of spawning male cod and help determine the location and timing of spawning. The project was proposed by South Shore fishermen, and is also supported by UMass Dartmouth, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game, the Division of Marine Fisheries, and NEFSC.
  • The State of Maine is again clashing with the Passamaquoddy Tribe over distribution of elver licenses. Last season, Maine accused the tribe of issuing an illegally high number of licenses for the fishery, while the tribe argued it could do so as long as it observed state catch limits. Now, the Department of Marine Resources is backing a bill that would make elver licenses issued by tribes invalid unless they are ratified by the state. The state claims the change is necessary to limit the elver harvest and protect the resource, while representatives of the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes says the bill is discriminatory and violates agreements allowing the tribes to independently manage resources on sovereign lands.
  • Ocean acidification is likely contributing to “dead mud” in Maine’s shellfish flats. The low pH in these areas inhibits the growth and reproductive success of shellfish, which could mean serious problems for fishermen and shellfish farmers. State Representative Mick Devin has introduced a new bill to establish a panel of scientists to study the problem. The bill is supported by the Department of Marine Resources.
  • Following its release of a report on marine mammal bycatch in foreign fisheries that export to the United States, the Natural Resources Defense Council is also advocating for new measures to address bycatch in domestic fisheries. In particular, NRDC is advocating for strengthened bycatch reduction provisions in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, including requiring management measures to avoid bycatch, expanding the definition of bycatch to include seabirds and other species, retained incidental catch, and unobserved mortality due to fishing gear, and repealing limits on access to federally funded fisheries data.
  • Last week, stakeholders met in Seattle to discuss electronic reporting and monitoring programs. The National Electronic Monitoring and Reporting Workshop was supported by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Environmental Defense Fund. Pacific Fishery Management Council chair Dorothy Lowman said the goal of the meeting was to “to talk about how we can move as efficiently as possible from feasibility to implementation” of electronic monitoring, and sessions focused on successful electronic monitoring pilot programs. The workshop resulted in the creation of a new site for EM resources,


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