In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, May 16

The ASMFC discussed potential cuts in striped bass catch this week. Photo: FWS

  • An article in the Seattle Times this week characterizes the discussion surrounding the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act as a battle between the coasts. West Coast fishermen, the article says, generally think Magnuson is working, and are more supportive of the Senate discussion draft that upholds current rebuilding timelines while encouraging new ecosystem-based management measures. Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations executive director Zeke Grader said, “Flexibility means going back to the bad old days.” Meanwhile, East Coast fishermen tend to support the House discussion draft that would create far more flexibility in timelines to end overfishing and restore depleted fish stocks.
  • An opinion piece by Gulf of Maine Research Institute chief scientific officer Andrew Pershing, published this week in the Portland Press Herald, argues that climate change has already begun to affect fisheries in the Gulf of Maine, and that fisheries management must begin to adapt to these changes. The Gulf of Maine has warmed steadily since 2004, and has warmed faster than 99.9 percent of the global ocean. Fisheries have already been altered by this warming—black sea bass have moved north into the Gulf of Maine, while cold-loving northern shrimp have declined in abundance. Pershing says “adapting will require the development of new tools to help people make informed decisions as the environment changes,” including better forecasting models based on oceanographic observations and reallocations of moving species like black sea bass.
  • The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission met this week and discussed striped bass management. Prior to the meeting, a New York Times opinion piece argued that strict catch limits in the late 1980s were successful in helping populations recover, but notes that numbers have once again fallen precipitously since around 2006 for unclear reasons, which may include lack of forage fish, disease, and warming temperatures. The piece argued the ASMFC should no longer delay action but should adopt lower catch targets for both recreational and commercial fishermen. At its meeting, the ASMFC agreed to consider reducing striped bass catch gradually over the next three years, but delayed taking final action until the fall. While some regulators said gradual action would allow time for more analysis and would reduce impacts on fishermen, Ken Hastings of Stripers Forever said “It makes kicking the can [down the road] into an Olympic sport.”
  • The ASMFC also discussed results from the first year of the menhaden catch cap. The data show a 25 percent drop in overall catch, which environmental groups touted as a positive step towards forage fish conservation. Meanwhile, Omega Protein Inc., the company responsible for a large portion of the menhaden harvest, made record gross profits—$82.8 million, compared to $42.1 million in the year before the catch cap. Omega spokesperson Ben Landry, however, claims that while Virginia abided by its catch cap, other states far exceeded their limits. He argues that the ASMFC needs a stronger enforcement strategy to ensure that the “burden of reducing coastwide harvests” is distributed equitably. Virginia is responsible for 80 percent of the East Coast’s total allowable catch of menhaden.
  • Recreational fishermen and captains have responded to regulations released by NOAA last month that reduce the season for Gulf of Maine cod and haddock, increase the minimum size for cod, and create a daily bag limit for haddock. In Newburyport, a party boat captain said “these regulations are going to hurt everyone,” while the Salem News said “the slow death of cherished traditions continues.”  NOAA says the regulations, which are more stringent than recommended by the Council, are necessary to restore and protect Gulf of Maine fish stocks.
  • Connecticut is moving to create an elver fishery in the state’s rivers. Currently, the juvenile eels are fished only in Maine and South Carolina. Connecticut lawmakers recently approved a measure opening state waters to eel fishing, and the ASMFC voted on Monday to propose that states be able to open elver fisheries if they show improvements in habitat. The proposal would not result in an overall rise in elver catch, but rather a redistribution of quota between states. Elver prices have fallen since last year, but the eels still fetch about $700 per pound.
  • Recent satellite data released by NASA suggest this summer may mark the start of a strong El Niño event. The images show a pile-up of warm water along the South American coast and the equatorial eastern Pacific, which resembles conditions in May 1997, at the start of one of the strongest El Niño events ever observed. El Niño events can have wide-ranging effects on climate, ocean currents, and fisheries.
  • The Lenfest Ocean Program and the University of Washington have announced the Fishery Ecosystem Task Force, a group of 14 scientists who will develop a framework to help fishery management councils and other management bodies implement ecosystem-based fisheries management.

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