In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, July 11

NOAA and USFWS have designated 65 miles of coastline and 200,000 square miles of ocean as critical habitat for loggerhead sea turtles. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries

  • Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has announced a series of hearings in New Bedford, Gloucester, Plymouth, and Chatham to hear proposals for the allocation of $8.2 million in federal fisheries disaster aid allocated directly to the state. This funding is in addition to direct payments to fishermen and funds to develop a buyback program; Massachusetts is receiving a total of $14.5 million in aid. Some industry members have suggested the additional discretionary funds be used for payments to crew members and permit holders who did not meet the eligibility requirements for direct payments.
  • Some oyster farmers on the Cape are angry over a letter Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe wrote in defense of a fish seller who received and sold stolen oysters from last summer’s string of oyster robberies in the Barnstable area. Joseph Vaudo of Joe’s Lobster Mart pleaded guilty to receiving the stolen oysters and to misleading police; the state Department of Public Health is now determining whether they will take further action to revoke his license to sell seafood. O’Keefe’s letter to the DPH indicated that Vaudo had no other violations with the DA’s office and that the DA felt his current punishment was appropriate. Oyster farmers, however—many of whom were victims of the thefts—say the $6250 he was fined was not a sufficient deterrent, and that Vaudo should not be allowed to remain in business.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA have designated 685 miles of coastline and almost 200,000 square miles of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico as critical habitat for loggerhead sea turtles. The areas include nesting beaches, breeding areas, migration corridors, and Sargassum mats. The designation means the agencies must be consulted before federal permits or contracts are issued for projects in these areas.
  • Scalloped hammerhead sharks have been added to the U.S. endangered species list, becoming the first shark species to gain protection under the Endangered Species Act.  In response to a petition by WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals, two subpopulations of the shark were listed as threatened and another two as endangered. The sharks are found mostly in foreign waters, and so the listing is likely to have little impact on domestic fishermen. A similar petition to list great hammerhead sharks was denied.
  • New research suggests that whales play a large role in buffering marine ecosystems against the effects of climate change and other environmental stresses. The paper, published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, suggests that the ongoing recovery of many large whale species may enhance the stability of marine ecosystems. Whales serve an important role in the food chain as both predator and prey, their carcasses provide food for countless species, and they also recycle nutrients from the seafloor to the surface through their fecal plumes.
  • Rhode Island’s oyster farming industry is thriving. Oysters account for 98 percent of the state’s aquaculture products. They increased in value 49 percent in 2013 relative to the previous year, and 6.4 million Rhode Island oysters were sold in 2013. The number of farms and farm workers is also growing quickly. Meanwhile, in Maine, oyster farmers are benefiting from an uptick in paid tours of their farms as public interest in food production grows. Still, farms offering tours are in the minority, as many farmers say they are too busy addressing booming demand for their oysters to provide tours.
  • The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has opposed President Obama’s recent announcement indicating he will expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine Sanctuary. The Council says the expanded protected area would hurt tuna fishermen economically and would be very difficult to enforce. The Marine Conservation Institute and the Pew Charitable Trusts, however, note that less than 5 percent of U.S-caught Pacific tuna is caught in the area proposed for protection. The Council also argued that U.S. fishermen working in the area serve as informal monitoring system for illegal foreign vessels.
  • The California fishing port Morro Bay has emulated Cape Cod fishermen in creating a community quota fund to support small-scale fishermen. In response to competition from larger ports and processors, the community and the Nature Conservancy developed the Morro Bay Community Quota Find, which holds quota for 90 species valued at $2 million and leases this quota to local fishermen at lower prices. Advocates say the fund both keeps quota in the hands of community fishermen and supports research into sustainable fishing practices.
  • The federal government has issued 70 subpoenas as part of an investigation of a New York state research set-aside program. The program auctions off the right to harvest fish above legal limits; the funds raised are used for fisheries research. Critics say the program is easily abused and essentially a “license to steal.”
  • NOAA has awarded $4 million in grants to UMass Dartmouth’s School of Marine Science and Technology for collaborative scallop research through its set-aside program. The projects include development of bycatch avoidance systems and video surveys. The funds are sourced from sales of sea scallops harvested through designated quota allocations.

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