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In the News
Fish Talk in the News – Friday, June 20
The NEFMC voted against raising the haddock bycatch cap for herring trawlers. Photo credit: NOAA/NEFSC
- The New England Fishery Management Council met this week in Portland, ME. On the agenda were updates on ecosystem-based fishery management and electronic monitoring efforts and a discussion of groundfish issues, including catch limits for haddock, flounder, and pollock stocks and alternatives for an amendment to promote fleet diversity. The Council also discussed the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization process, with executive director Tom Nies providing a briefing on the recent Senate discussion draft of the bill. Some Council members said this draft does not provide enough flexibility in timelines for rebuilding overfished stocks and would further complicate management.
- The Council also considered a controversial request by the herring industry for an emergency action to raise the limit on the amount of haddock the herring fleet can take as bycatch, since it is on track to exceed its allowance of haddock this year. The groundfish fleet has strongly opposed raising this allowance, saying that doing so wouldn’t address the larger issue of bycatch by the herring fleet and would further jeopardize a struggling groundfish fishery. The herring industry, meanwhile, has argued raising the cap wouldn’t affect the biological condition of haddock stocks and that the current cap will shut down the herring fishery and harm the industry. The Council voted 10-0 against raising the catch allowance.
- Secretary of State John Kerry hosted his international oceans conference in Washington, DC this week. Coinciding with the conference, President Obama announced an executive order to address seafood fraud and mislabeling and illegal and unreported fishing. The order directs federal agencies to combat illegal fishing and seafood fraud through strengthened coordination and implementation of new regulations, to promote legally caught seafood, and to assist foreign national in building capacity to do the same. President Obama also announced that he will create the world’s largest marine sanctuary by expanding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument from almost 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles. The area will be off limits to fishing, energy exploration, and other commercial activities, and will double the global area of fully protected ocean.
- A Take Part article published this week says that the herring industry’s recent quota overage in management area 1B—in which trawlers caught 160 percent of their quota before the federal government closed the area—doesn’t only affect herring. Massive midwater trawlers can very quickly clear out herring in large swaths of ocean, which in turn eliminates food for other fish, seabirds, and marine mammals like dolphins and whales. These vessels also catch large quantities of other fish and mammals as bycatch. Herring industry representatives, meanwhile, argue that they are not responsible for tracking their own catch, and that the quota overage is the fault of federal officials for failing to shut down the area quickly enough.
- A Washington Post article published this week highlights recent successes in forage fish conservation. The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council lowered the limit for river herring and shad bycatch by mackerel trawlers, while the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission cut catch limits for menhaden. These votes are an important step towards restoring populations of forage fish depleted by habitat loss, overfishing, and bycatch.
- A New Bedford Standard-Times editorial calls for a greater industry contribution to fisheries research in New England, noting that Alaskan fisheries count on industry vessels for a far larger portion of their data collection. It argues that NOAA should direct more funds to cooperative research and observers to improve stock assessment accuracy.
- Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council member and charter boat captain John McMurray wrote a blog for Reel-Time.com on how striped bass is a good example of the problems with the Doc Hastings Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization draft. The ASMFC, he says, “continues to delay making critical decisions on reducing fishing mortality or even accepting the best available science” for striped bass, since it doesn’t have to abide by the Magnuson-Stevens requirements that apply to the federal Fishery Management Councils. The discussion draft’s relaxing of rebuilding timelines, he argues, would lead Fishery Management Councils to manage other stocks like the ASMFC currently manages striped bass, allowing them to disregard best available science and continue overfishing with “a constant litany of excuses to avoid taking action.”
- The New England Fishery Management Council continues to develop the Omnibus Habitat Amendment, acknowledging that there will be “winners and losers.” Some areas, like Machias off the Maine coast, will gain protection, while others, like Cashes Ledge, could be reopened to trawling. A draft Environmental Impact Statement is due in the next few months, which will be followed by a period of public comment. Meanwhile, Pew’s Lee Crockett wrote a piece for National Geographic citing habitat protection as a critical component of healthy ecosystems and effective ecosystem-based fisheries management. The piece calls for stronger protections for essential fish habitat under a reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act.
- The City of New Bedford has released a six-part plan for the revitalization of the groundfish fishery. Components of the plan include promoting the use of the UMass School for Marine Science and Technology’s video survey technology for stock assessments, pushing for more flexibility in rebuilding timelines for overfished stocks, and developing improved fishing gear and cooperative research efforts.