In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, September 19

Atlantic cod are considered a "choke species" in the Gulf of Maine. Photo credit: Dieter Craasman.

  • In an 8-2-1 vote the New England Fishery Management Council’s Groundfish Oversight Committee proposed requesting NOAA Fisheries to impose new emergency measures in an attempt to save the collapsed Gulf of Maine cod stock. Recommendations include expanding inshore spawning closures, requiring observers on all commercial groundfish boats fishing in multiple stock areas, prohibiting charter and recreational fishing in spawning closure areas, and new restrictions on commercial vessels. A review of cod bycatch in the lobster fishery was also recommended. The proposal will move to the New England Fishery Management Council for vote at their meeting on October 1, 2014.
  • In sharp contrast to the historic low Gulf of Maine cod stock assessment (spawning stock biomass was estimated to be just 3-4% of target level), John Waldman, a professor of biology at Queens College, praises the success story of the Norwegian and Russian “skrei” cod fishery, a fishery with a one million ton sustainable annual catch. He asks why fisheries with the same species in the same ocean with the same social and economic demand yield such drastically different catches.  His answer? International cooperation and proficient resource management.  Under the Joint Fisheries Commission, Norwegian and Russian scientists, using multi-vessel surveys, work together to set harvest control rules and a total allowable catch (TAC). Norway and Russia share 80% of the TAC and distribute the rest to nations with regional historical rights to fish. Norway Seafoods also promotes sustainability by trawling the same lanes to minimize habitat destruction and by requiring all bycatch to be used as food and accounted for in ecosystem analysis.  Furthermore, Waldman comments on the binational character of the fishery, stating that it allows Norway and Russia to check on each other, whereas North American fisheries lack this regulatory relationship as they are more unilaterally managed. Waldman concludes that Canada and the United States should look towards the Norwegian and Russian fishery as “clear evidence—and maybe even inspiration—that we can do better.”
  • Regional fishing associations around the country, including the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance and the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, have teamed up to form the Fishing Community Coalition. The goal of the Coalition is to ensure that fish stocks are made a priority in the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization process. In response to Senator Marco Rubio’s Florida Fisheries Improvement Act, the Coalition expressed its concern that the reauthorization simply “reaffirms the status quo” or possibly even “moves backward.” Linda Behnken, director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, hopes that this reauthorization will continue to move fisheries management forward as previous ones have and support policy that allows people access to a healthy ocean. Tom Dempsey, Policy Director of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, stresses the importance of up to date science-supported data in fisheries management, something, he says, that New England fisheries often lack.
  • Newfoundland and the Canadian federal government have pledged $400 million in funding to transform the Province’s cod fishery to more resemble those of Iceland and Norway.  The funds will be distributed over three years starting in 2015 and come as part of Newfoundland’s agreement to end its seafood processing requirements. According to Dr. George Rose of the Center for Ecosystems Research, the northern cod stock is only a few years away from reaching the spawning stock biomass needed to end the present moratorium. The most recent trawl survey revealed the highest abundance ever, which Dr. Rose attributes to a temperature regime shift. If Newfoundland truly wishes to compete with Iceland and Norway, however, cod stocks are not enough. It will need to revamp its entire processing plant design, vessels, and quota system to produce a high quality year round fishery.
  • The Maine Department of Marine Resources implemented a short-term exception to the usual three lobster trap trawl limit in an attempt to prevent gear conflict between herring fishermen and lobstermen. Herring migration in the coming weeks will increase the number of fishermen moving through the area, raising the chance of entanglement in lobster traps.  By allowing for the option of longer trawl lines, the new regulation enables lobstermen to use the same amount of gear and reduce the chance of gear loss.
  • After the Maine population skyrocketed last year (possibly, state officials claim, as a result of increased ocean temperatures), invasive green crab numbers have began to dwindle, bringing some relief to the area. According to University of Maine researcher Brian Beal, the crab population is 10% of last year’s level, but the vote is out on whether the low numbers are a result of an especially harsh winter or a successful aggressive crab trapping season. Green crabs are an invasive species in New England waters that threaten Maine’s soft-shell clam fishery as well as destroy valuable coastal habitat. In an effort to reduce green crab abundance, state officials and fishermen are working to find ways to make the crabs more commercially viable.
  • The National Marine Fisheries Service is working with the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to amend the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan. In consideration are quota reductions for the commercial fishery and size limits for the recreational fishery over a three-year time frame.  A series of public meetings will occur between September 22 and October 29 at which the public will be able to express their interests and/or concerns.
  • A new study shows that marine phytoplankton can evolve quickly enough to cope with climate change. The study found that the Emiliania huxleyi phytoplankton may shrink to a smaller size when exposed to higher temperatures, but is able to grow faster and produce a larger abundance over all.  Emiliania huxleyi is an important food source for other ocean life and absorbs atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is important for combating global climate change.
  • NOAA Fisheries announced the winners of the 2014 Funded Prescott Grant Proposals. Applicants in Massachusetts and Maine were awarded grant money to help fund marine mammal protection and rehabilitation projects.
  • The National Marine Fisheries Service and the New England Fishery Management Council are seeking Atlantic Sea Scallop research proposals for the 2015/2016 Atlantic Sea Scallop Research Set-Aside (RSA) Program. Research funds are generated from the sale of the scallop RSA quota that the Council previously reserved from the scallop total allowable catch. Projects funded through the program must enhance or contribute to scallop fishery knowledge and/or management.
  • As many scallop boats are wrapping up fishing, United States domestic scallop buyers may have to purchase smaller sizes or face steeper prices. The scallop size of choice is typically ten to a pound, but these may be in short supply as the current inventory will have to last until the fishing season begins again in March 2015. Suppliers may use previously frozen scallops, but this will drive up prices for fresh ones. Another option is to rely on scallop imports. According to National Marine Fisheries Service statistics, Japanese imports have grown significantly, totaling 222,670 kilograms in July alone. Import prices and demand have remained stable as Japanese scallops are likely supplementing U.S. supply. For now, however, U.S. scallop prices are steady and only a slight increase is expected by the end of the year.
  • Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Turtle Island Restoration Networked intend to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for not adhering to regulations set under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The conservation groups hope to force a ban on drift gill nets in California, claiming that these nets killed 16 sperms whales in 2010. The NMFS West Coast program director, Mark Helvey, says, however, that endangered marine mammal death from gill nets is rare.

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