In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, October 3

Fishing boats in New Bedford, MA.

  • The New England Fishery Management Council met in Hyannis this week to address the Gulf of Maine cod stock collapse. You would think that after an 8-1 committee vote to act the next step would be clear to the Council —you would be wrong. NEFMC recommended emergency action, but pushed off to NOAA Fisheries the weight of the responsibility of actually laying out the details of a plan. It is now up to NOAA Fisheries to decide “whether to prohibit recreational fishing in the western part of the gulf, require federal observers on commercial boats in some areas of the gulf, and end a spate of exemptions to reduce the overall catch.” Cod quota cuts—and perhaps even a ban on cod fishing entirely— are also up for consideration. Peter Shelley of the Conservation Law Foundation said, “This emergency action has to cut catch this year as low as possible and take all possible measures to protect larger spawning fish.” He further added that, “It is remarkable but not surprising that the council continues to abdicate its fundamental management responsibility with respect to cod to the federal government.” Fishermen themselves—even though some disagree with the scientific validity of the most recent stock assessment— have expressed disdain with the council, one saying, “What we have is not working; it’s broken.” As for an emergency action for cod, NOAA is expected to announce a plan within the next month.
  • A new Portland Press Herald opinion piece highlights the importance of protecting cod spawning areas. Even after a 78% catch quota reduction in 2013, Atlantic cod is only at 3% to 4% of its target spawning stock biomass. Cod reproductive rates are directly related to fish age. “Younger, smaller female cod spawn fewer and poorer-quality eggs than their older, larger counterparts.” Also, rather than spawning multiple times in a season, younger fish will usually only spawn once. This spawning is now mostly restricted to the Western Gulf of Maine. Unfortunately, the typical maximum age of the cod stock is now only 5 to 6 years old. As said by the author, if fisheries managers hope to recover cod numbers, they “must focus on rebuilding attributes of the stock that have been severely reduced.” This means protecting known spawning areas and restricting fishing in these areas, as well as further reducing catch quotas.
  • The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) released a draft MA Ocean Management Plan update last week. The draft is now available for public review and comment; a 60-day comment period is open until November 25, 2014, and four public hearings will be help throughout MA during the month of October. The original plan was released in 2009, and according to the Oceans Act signed by Governor Patrick, the plan must be updated every five years. According to CZM Director, Bruce Carlisle, “this first update of the ocean plan represents a tremendous team effort to assemble the best new science and information, balance emerging ocean management priorities with resource and marine use protection and ensure continued effective implementation of the plan.”
  • Lobstermen are responding negatively to a new fishing ban in Cape Cod Bay that will take effect January 2015 through April 2015. Implemented by NOAA and the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team in June, the ban seeks to avoid situations in which whales can get tangled in lobster and fishing gear. Lobstermen in the area are claiming that the ban will bring disastrous economic losses, and one veteran lobsterman says that he has never even seen a whale in the area. A regional spokeswoman for NOAA Fisheries said, however, “The area is a known feeding ground and is heavily utilized by whales, and a portion of the closure is already closed to gillnets.”
  • The Nova Star ferry resumed its daily service this spring after a four-year hiatus, and with it the Bigelow Lab for Ocean Sciences began again using the ferry as an ocean laboratory. Bigelow researchers park a mobile laboratory in the vehicle section of the ferry where they can take regular water samples along the 207-mile-long route between Yarmouth and Portland. The daily ferry provides a more affordable and flexible alternative to using research vessels. Funded by NASA, the data collected on water temperature, salinity levels, and nutrient composition is used to verify the data collected by Earth-observing satellites. Researchers at the Bigelow Lab have been collecting water samples since the late 1970s, and have created a time-series that can now be used to see trends and observe changes in the Gulf of Maine, such as climate change effects. Recently, researchers have observed a fivefold decline in phytoplankton growth rate; this summer was the lowest growth rate on record. This is a critically important observation because phytoplankton compose the bottom of the marine food chain and are a food source for fish larvae. According to Bigelow research Barney Balch, “a lower abundance of phytoplankton [now] could mean lower numbers of adult fish populations years from now.”
  • Contrary to previous thought, dogfish are abundant in New England waters, says a recent AP article. According to a University New England biologist, there are about 230,000 metric tons of spawning dogfish in the Gulf of Maine. Even though readily available dogfish are a cheap alternative to some groundfish, fishermen are having trouble finding a market for them, largely due to a lack of processing infrastructure.
  • NOAA, mandated under the Magnuson-Stevens Act to collect useful data for marine resource management, is asking for permission to conduct a telephone survey of for-hire recreational boaters. NOAA wishes to survey 10% of all licensed for-hire or charter boat operators and ask how much they fish, what they catch, and personal socioeconomic data.
  • Minimum size limits for Atlantic surfclams have been lifted, and Atlantic surfclam and ocean quahog quotas will remain unchanged, as recommended by NEFMC. 2014 commercial surf clam data showed that only 5.9% of commercial landings were less than 4.75 inches. This is a temporary rule for the 2015 calendar year.
  • A marine drifter that had been launched in early July by the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association was recovered in Nova Scotia. A drifter is “a device constructed to float on the surface with underwater sails which carry it by ocean currents rather than the wind.” The drifter possesses a transmitter that sends signals to satellites which in turn track the drifter. The collected data will contribute to knowledge of ocean currents in the Gulf of Maine and the Atlantic Ocean overall. Drifters can be programmed to test for currents, ocean temperatures, salinity levels, and more. The path the recovered drifter took can be seen here.
  • There is a mix of responses as the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) wrapped up its annual meeting. NAFO is an international organization established to manage fisheries in international waters. The United States is one of twelve members. In the name of habitat protection, at the most recent meeting, NAFO agreed to close two new areas to deep-sea fishing—a clear victory. Also, members agreed to renew previously closed areas for another six years; however, they did not protect a number of sites that had been identified by scientists as high priorities, which Susanna Fuller of the Deep-Sea Conservation Coalition called “disappointing.”
  • The Maine Department of Marine Resources has set new scallop rules in an effort to rebuild the fishery. The scallop season will last from December 1, 2014 to April 11, 2015. The fishery is divided into three zones, two of which will have a 70-day season, and the third will have a 50-day season. If more than 30% of harvestable scallops are removed, the fishery will close.
  • The Rockweed Working Group, which is responsible for determining Maine’s ecologically important areas that should or should not be closed to rockweed harvesting, has planned two public meetings. The first meeting will be on October 15 from 3-7pm and the second meeting will be on November 17 from 3-7pm. At the meetings, the group will discuss the criteria for determining ecological importance and the public will have time to express their opinions.
  • The Northeast Regional Planning Board released discussion materials for their upcoming Fall Public Meeting Series. The RPB is asking for comments on the “Effective Decision Making” goal and the “Healthy Ocean and Coastal Ecosystem” goal. The public meeting series begins in Portsmouth, NH next week. The full schedule can be found here.

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