In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, March 7

A Portland Press Herald editorial calls for Maine to address the decline in its smelt population. Photo credit: NEFSC/NOAA

  • The Senate has confirmed Kathryn Sullivan as administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Sullivan has been acting NOAA administrator since February 2013. Sullivan was one of the first six women in the NASA astronaut corps, becoming the first American woman to walk in space, and has also previously served as NOAA’s chief scientist. The Center for American Progress published a piece saying Sullivan and NOAA face “massive challenges,” including budget constraints, the need to modernize the National Weather Service, adapting to climate change, ocean acidification, and sea level rise, coordinating ocean uses through the National Ocean Policy, and enhancing the profitability and sustainability of fisheries.
  • Due to a 20 cent increase in average prices, the value of Maine’s lobster fishery increased by $23 million in 2013, to $364.5 million. Maine fishermen caught 126 million pounds of lobster last year, slightly less than 2012’s record high 127.2 million pounds. Despite the increase, prices are still much lower than the $3-4 per pound fishermen received in the mid 2000s, and the state’s new Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative is working to increase demand. State officials are also concerned that nearly a third of the state’s 6000 license holders are not actively fishing, complicating management and potentially stressing stocks if latent permit holders begin to fish. Climate change could also stress the fishery as lobsters shift east and north towards cooler waters.
  • Right whale researcher Scott Kraus has said that brightly colored ropes on lobster gear could help prevent whale entanglement. Right whales can see the ropes, but orange or red coloring could help the whales detect and react to the gear sooner. Only about 450 North Atlantic right whales remain, and 80 percent show signs of fishing gear entanglement.
  • A Portland Press Herald editorial says that Maine must address the rapidly dropping smelt population. Numbers of the important forage fish are dropping around Kennebec Country and southern Maine. The decline could be linked to overfishing, climate change, water pollution, or habitat loss due to dams and culverts. The Press Herald calls for Maine to continue research into the smelt population and for communities to address habitat loss and pollution resulting from coastal development.
  • The start of Maine’s elver season, currently scheduled for March 22, could be pushed back by two weeks if the state cannot reach an agreement with the Passamaquoddy Tribe. Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said there is a fifty-fifty chance the season will be delayed, because the state will need time to validate tribal licenses after the state and the tribe agree on how to allocate permits to tribal fishermen. An earlier agreement was scrapped after the attorney general expressed concern that imposing different regulations on tribal and non-tribal fishermen would violate the state constitution’s equal protection clauses.
  • The United States, Canada, Russia, Denmark, and Norway have reached an agreement to block commercial fishing in the central Arctic at a meeting in Nuuk, Greenland. The agreement will result in interim measures to ban fishing in the international waters of the Arctic until a regulatory framework is formed and more research can be conducted on current conditions and potential impacts of fishing. Melting sea ice has increasingly opened the central Arctic to exploitation.
  • A bill to address ocean acidification won unanimous support from the Maine legislature’s Marine Resources Committee on Monday. The bill would create a commission to research potential effects of ocean acidification on commercial shellfish harvesting and recommend policies to limit negative impacts.
  • A Take Part article highlights a die-off of farmed softshell clams in Boston Harbor in 2010. Two of John Denehy’s clam beds died off completely, potentially as a result of a large fuel spill at Logan airport. Denehy has sued the Massachusetts Port Authority and the fueling company as a result. This incident is symptomatic of larger pollution problems for urban shellfish growers, both from point source spills and longer-term runoff.
  • New research says shrimp-flavored gelatin made with byproducts of shrimp processing could be a successful new crab bait. Scientist Julie Anderson tested numerous types of bait and determined that blue crabs are most attracted to shrimp. The bait could replace depleted menhaden in crab traps.
  • Fishing crews in Provincetown are working to remove lost and discarded fishing gear, known as “ghost gear,” through the Fishing for Energy program. The lost gear can kill marine life, harm habitat, and interfere with active fishing gear. On Tuesday, the crews recovered nearly 50 traps and numerous ropes and nets. The program is a partnership between local organizations, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Covanta Energy, Schnitzer Steel Industries Inc., and NOAA.
  • Last week, Dr. Jonathan Hare, director of NOAA’s Narragansett Laboratory, spoke at a Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association meeting about what warming waters will mean for Rhode Island’s marine landscape. Fish seem to be migrating in response to rising temperatures, with cold water species moving out of the area and warm water species like cobia becoming more abundant.
  • On Thursday, the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management released an Environmental Impact Statement on a proposed project to use seismic air guns for oil and gas exploration on the U.S. Atlantic outer continental shelf. Environmental groups argue the technique, which uses loud blasts to detect seafloor geology and hydrocarbon deposits, is extremely disruptive to whales, turtles, and other marine life and would encourage further destructive offshore drilling. BOEM’s EIS predicts minor impacts to most wildlife, with a “moderate” impact on marine mammals and turtles, estimates approximately 138,000 marine animals could be injured, and says the feeding, migratory, and other behavioral patterns of 13.6 million other marine animals would be disrupted by the blasts.

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