In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, June 27

NFMS has granted an experimental fishery permit to collect scientific information on barndoor skates. Image:NEFSC/NOAA

  • A study conducted by researchers from NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center indicates that a change in forage fish abundance may have contributed to the controversial stock assessments for Gulf of Maine cod in 2008 and 2011. Around 2006, the dominant prey species for cod shifted from Atlantic herring to sand lance. As a result, cod aggregated in a small area of Stellwagen Bank where sand lance are abundant, creating a perception that the Gulf of Maine cod population was rebounding and contributing to a 2008 assessment showing positive signs for cod. In 2010, 45 percent of all Gulf of Maine cod landings came from this small, 100 square mile area. Despite the concentration of cod in this area, however, the stock remained depleted; the 2011 stock assessment reflected this poor status, despite fishermen’s ability to catch abundant cod in the area on Stellwagen. This pattern may have contributed to the wide controversy surrounding the 2011 assessment.
  • Two articles published in the Washington Post this week respond to President Obama’s announcement that he will use his executive authority to vastly expand protected marine habitat in the central Pacific. One article provides a rationale for the President’s decision, noting that the large size of the monument, its remote location and lack of commercial activity, and its seamounts that serve as biodiversity hotspots all contribute to its suitability for protection. An editorial, meanwhile, argues that while the Pacific announcement is a step in the right direction, improvements in international management of marine resources are necessary to maintain the health of the ocean. The United States should lead international efforts to curb overfishing and illegal fishing and reduce carbon emissions to mitigate ocean acidification.
  • Cape Cod fishermen applauded two New England Fishery Management Council decisions regarding the herring fleet made at the Council’s meeting last week. The Council declined to raise the catch cap for haddock bycatch by the herring fleet; groundfish fishermen say this decision will help protect juvenile haddock and strengthen their fishery. The Council also agreed to consider changing the boundaries of herring fishing areas in response to complaints that the herring industry’s massive midwater trawlers operate too close to shore, rapidly depleting inshore forage fish populations and driving other species farther offshore.
  • The Commerce Department announced Regional Fishery Management Council appointments this week. In New England, Tom Dempsey, Peter Kendall, and Mary Beth Nickell-Tooley have been reappointed, and Libby M.P. Etrie has been appointed to the at-large seat from Massachusetts.
  • A new study published in PLOS ONE indicates that great white shark numbers off the eastern US are rising quickly after decades of decline. The study attributes the rising population to conservation efforts and to growing numbers of one of the shark’s prey species, gray seals. More great white sharks could help control the booming population of gray seals, which fishermen say are slowing the rebound of fish populations.
  • Gloucester’s famous Cape Pond Ice, which provides ice to the port’s fishing fleet, has survived despite declining business from fishing vessels thanks to state-aided debt refinancing. Still, the business is inside Gloucester’s Designated Port Area, which requires that 50 percent of its business supports the fishing industry, but just 10-12 percent of its business now comes from the fleet. Owner Scott Memhard has unsuccessfully asked to be exempted from the Designated Port Area, but the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has allowed him to explore other uses for the building so long as he continues to provide ice for the fishing fleet.
  • Maine officials are considering a bond referendum that would allocate $7 million in funding to build the state’s lobster processing capacity. Much of Maine’s lobster is currently sent to Canada for processing; Maine processed 20 million pounds last year while Canada’s east coast processed 150 million pounds. Industry advocates say greater processing capacity would add value to their catch and boost revenues.
  • A New York Times opinion piece published this week asks why the United States imports 86 percent of its seafood, often including species native to the US. A third of seafood caught in the country is exported; author Paul Greenberg argues that this creates economic and ecological inefficiency. He particularly highlights the historical replacement of American oysters by farmed Asian shrimp, of Atlantic cod by Pacific pollock and Asian farmed tilapia and Pangasius, and of wild Atlantic salmon by farmed Chilean salmon. This international seafood trade, Greenburg argues, “severs us from our coastal ecosystems” and reduces the motivation to preserve them, and so the country should work to eat local seafood and establish “a working relationship with our marine environment.”
  • The New England Fishery Management Council has heard a positive report on the performance of individual scallop quotas. In 2010, the Council adopted the individual quotas for the “general category” scallop fleet, which generally comprises small dayboats. An evaluation of the program presented to the Council last week suggests it has succeeded in preventing overfishing and improving overall economic performance, although these trends may also be linked to rising prices for scallops and healthy scallop stocks. Active general category scallop vessels have also declined from 154 in 2010 to 129 in 2012.
  • Cape Cod fishermen are catching increasing amounts of skates in lieu of depleted cod, and they have been reporting increasing abundance of barndoor skates. A prohibition on landing and selling barndoor skates has been in place since 2003 following a 99 percent population drop between 1960 and 1998. This week, however, the National Marine Fisheries Service granted an experimental fishing permit to 14 vessels in the Georges Bank Fixed Gear Sector that will allow them to keep a portion of their barndoor skate catch in return for scientific information on the species, including length, weight, and health indicators. The last stock assessment for barndoor skates was conducted in 1999.


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