In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, May 30

The New York Times remembered when "America's rivers ran silver" with shad. Photo: Jim Cummins/Chesapeake Bay Program

  • NOAA has announced an agreement with state fishery directors from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York to distribute the $32.8 million in fisheries disaster funding allocated by Congress in the 2014 budget. Under the agreement, a third of the funding will be distributed directly to 336 groundfish permit holders who landed at least 5,000 pound of groundfish in any of the past four years; each of these fishermen will receive $32,463. This includes 50 Maine fishermen and 194 Massachusetts fishermen. A third of the funding will be split between the states based on a formula that considers lost groundfish revenues in each state; the states will have discretion regarding how to use these funds. The remaining third of the money will be used to develop a vessel buyout program.
  • Doc Hastings’ draft bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act passed the House Natural Resources Committee after several hours of discussion on Thursday morning. Amendments to the proposed bill approved by the committee included a measure to allow subsistence fishermen a seat on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and another to reform red snapper management in the Gulf of Mexico. The proposed bill makes numerous changes to federal fisheries management, including relaxing the ten-year rebuilding requirements for overfished species, limiting access to fisheries data, and encouraging the consideration of economic factors when setting catch limits. Critics argue the bill would severely undermine progress in rebuilding depleted fish stocks, creating huge loopholes that would allow overfishing to continue in spite of scientific recommendations. An editorial in the Hartford Courant said “It’s hard to argue that easing up on fishing restrictions is in anyone’s best interest.”
  • NMFS announced the closure of herring area 1B, which stretches from the eastern tip of Cape Cod through the central Gulf of Maine, since 92 percent of the total allowable catch for the area has already been caught. Through December 31, vessels may retain no more than 2,000 pounds per day of herring caught in the area; from January 1 2015 to April 30 2015, no herring may be caught in the area. Lobstermen often use herring as bait, but Maine Lobstermen’s Association president David Cousens said this closure would not have adverse impacts on that industry, since other herring management areas are more productive anyway.
  • World Fish Migration Day was last Saturday, and the New York Times’ Dot Earth column recognized it with a piece recalling “when America’s rivers ran silver” with herring, shad, and salmon. Dams, habitat loss, pollution, and overfishing have driven the decline of these species. The Providence Journal noted that dams block the migration of shad, an important forage fish, and that fishways are not always effective in providing safe passage past dams.
  • Mother Jones published a piece this week calling puffins “the new poster child for climate change.” Juvenile puffins normally feed on hake and herring, but unusually warm water temperatures have meant lower herring abundance in their feeding grounds. As a result, adult puffins have been bringing their chicks the warmer-water species butterfish, but these fish are too large for the chicks to eat. This has led to low success rates for puffin reproduction in recent years.
  • The Island Institute’s Nick Battista wrote to the Bangor Daily News this week with recommendations on “how Maine can sustain coastal communities in the face of climate change.” With the recent National Climate Assessment highlighting the effects of climate change on fisheries, Maine should start preparing now, particularly since its lobster-dominated fishing economy is particularly vulnerable to environmental change. Although the exact effects of climate change are still uncertain, Battista says possible ways to build economic resilience include supporting new businesses, taking steps to lower costs and increase profitability, and providing training programs for fishermen to diversity to aquaculture.
  • The Portland Press Herald published a piece highlighting the threat to fisheries from ocean acidification. Acidification will harm shell-building organisms like clams and lobsters, and the cold, enclosed waters of the Gulf of Maine are particularly vulnerable to acidification. Maine recently became the first state to form a panel to study effects of ocean acidification and wants to address the problem, but the Press Herald argues federal action to fund research is needed as well. US Rep. Chellie Pingree introduced a bill last week that would require federal research into the effects of acidification on coastal communities.
  • The Press Herald also published an editorial suggesting Maine’s fishermen would benefit from building the reputation of locally caught seafood, as farmers have for locally grown produce. A recent survey suggested 80 percent of residents would choose locally produced food over an alternative, but locally caught seafood is often difficult for consumers to find or identify. Better labeling might help both consumers and fishermen.

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