In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, July 25

Gray Seals

Rebounding gray seal populations have again sparked controversy. (Photo Credit: NOAA/NEFSC)

  • Massachusetts officials held a meeting in Chatham last Thursday regarding the distribution of $8.2 million in federal fisheries disaster aid allocated to the state, the second of three portions of a $33 million aid package. Chatham’s fishermen were critical of the first portion of this aid distribution, which will see 191 groundfish permit holders receive a $32,000 individual payout. To qualify for the payment, permit holders must have caught 5,000 pounds of groundfish in one of the past four fishing years. Chatham fishermen say this qualification excludes fishermen who moved off groundfish in favor of healthier stocks, favors fishermen who entered the business in the last few years, and excludes crew members and most of the state’s 800 permit holders. State officials said they intend to use the second portion of the aid package—which was allocated directly to the state to distribute at its discretion—to support more permit holders and crew members. Fishermen also criticized the third portion of the aid package, a buyback of vessels and permits, saying direct payments would be more beneficial.
  • A WBUR piece highlights Cape Cod fishermen struggling with the effects of severely depleted cod populations. Chatham Fisherman John Tuttle says there are now hardly any cod and haddock left to catch, and he now mainly fishes dogfish as a substitute until stocks recover. He says the $8.2 million in fisheries aid allocated to Massachusetts should go to crew members and asks for yearly stock assessments.
  • On Thursday, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill banning the possession or sale of shark fins in Massachusetts. Shark finning, or cutting the fins from live sharks and returning the rest of the shark to the water, is already banned in the United States, but the new law will also prohibit the sale of imported shark fins. Skates and dogfish are excluded from the ban.
  • A WGBH News segment focuses on the potential effects of climate change on fisheries, noting that the distribution of many species seems to be changing as waters get warmer. The video focuses in part on the lobster fishery, which is struggling in warmer areas south of Cape Cod. Although lobsters are still plentiful in the Gulf of Maine, rising temperatures and the spread of shell disease could threaten that region, too. WGBH also interviewed NOAA regional administrator John Bullard, who said he is concerned with both climate change and ocean acidification and that regulations will have to adapt to changing conditions. Jackie Odell of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, meanwhile, said that while fishermen are worried about rising temperatures, they also “realize that there are a lot of natural cycles that occur,” but still argued that a loss of productivity related to climate change should be considered when determining rebuilding plans.
  • Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski has introduced legislation to block President Obama’s expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, a plan the President announced last month. The legislation would amend the Antiquities Act, which grants the President executive authority to designate national monuments, to require congressional approval and analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act prior to a monument designation. Marine national monuments within the exclusive economic zone would also require approval by the legislature of each state within 100 miles of the proposed monument and a stakeholder review process prior to the restriction of any public uses in the area.
  • New England Fishery Management Council executive director Tom Nies wrote to the Providence Journal to argue that Oceana’s recent report on bycatch in US fisheries contains “numerous errors and inaccuracies” and should have been subject to peer review. He also notes that the report does not mention recent efforts by the Council and the industry to minimize bycatch and discards, including gear modifications and minimum size reductions; he says that while the Council agrees more efforts to reduce bycatch are needed, the report does not acknowledge existing progress.
  • Rising gray seal populations are once again causing controversy, with some New England residents calling for a cull. Seal numbers have rebounded since the advent of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972. Many say the resurgence is a return to normal conditions and is good for biodiversity and tourism, but others argue the seals attract sharks, foul beaches, interfere with fishing gear, and prevent recovery of fish stocks. Similar conflicts are occurring off the Atlantic coast of Canada, where fishermen and some officials have also promoted the possibility of a controlled hunt.
  • South Shore lobstermen oppose many of the provisions in a NMFS rule designed to reduce whale entanglements in lobster gear. These include a ban on the use of traps and pots between January 1 and April 30 off areas of Massachusetts, when whales are migrating through the region, as well as requirements for line markers and a minimum number of traps per line to reduce the number of lines in the water. Local lobstermen and state officials argue the closures are unnecessary and would hurt their income, while NOAA officials say they will reduce entanglements and are far smaller than they could have been.
  • The Portland Press Herald highlights an 84 year old Maine lobsterman who has been fishing for 77 years since he obtained his first lobster license in 1937. Andy Gove still fishes from his 36 foot vessel UFO and competes in lobster boat races.

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