New England Fisheries

Talking Fish 2014: A Year in Review

Photo credit: Joachim S. Mueller.

As we close out 2014 and head into the New Year, it’s a good time to look back on the stories featured on Talking Fish and review some reader favorites. Many stories fell under the umbrella of ecosystem-based fisheries management, an issue that will certainly continue to be a hot topic in 2015.

Climate change continued to a large part of the conversation this year, further stressing the importance of habitat protection in fisheries management. With the Gulf of Maine warming at a faster rate than any other ocean waters on Earth and ocean acidification threatening commercially important seafood species, we cannot afford to wait any longer. Congress is in the midst of reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Act and lawmakers need to seize the opportunity to make important progress for marine habitat protection. The New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) is wrapping up its public hearings on the Omnibus Habitat Amendment and the public comment period will end in early January. In a letter to NOAA, 138 prominent marine scientists and researchers came out in support of increased habitat protection in New England saying it is crucial for the recovery of depleted populations.

Atlantic cod is one of these populations that would benefit from increased protection. 2014 stock assessments revealed that the Gulf of Maine cod population had collapsed, which sparked many heated debates on the validity of the science behind the assessments. When the time came, the pressure was too great for NEFMC to do its job and address this crisis, and NOAA had to step in to issue emergency interim measures.

Forage fish management was also frequently highlighted in 2014. NOAA established a “Technical Expert Working Group,” to address the management, or lack thereof, of river herring. The working group was seen as a delay tactic, however, and the industrial herring fleet well exceeded its quota. Meanwhile, there were some accomplishments in forage fish management. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s catch cap on Atlantic menhaden proved successful for both fish populations and fleets. Marine mammals returned to New York City waters possibly due to an increase in menhaden populations. And the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted to develop a management plan for forage species that requires scientific information on the effects of fishing.

There were many ups and downs for New England fisheries in 2014, and the debates will certainly carry on. Climate change is a problem that is here to stay; only time will tell the fate of New England’s iconic cod; and forage fish will remain a key part of ecosystem-based management. In the New Year, we can expect important decisions on the Omnibus Habitat Amendment and the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and Talking Fish will continue to provide news and opinion updates.

Thank you for keeping up with Talking Fish, and we look forward to continuing the conversation in 2015. Here are some of our most-read posts of 2014:

  • January 23 – Fisheries Disaster Money Shows, but Where Should it Flow? – Last week the most unproductive Congress in our Nation’s history managed to squeeze out an omnibus appropriations bill that includes $75 million dollars for fisheries disaster assistance. Disaster relief funding could still help a good number of people. A thoughtful and creative process for using this rare and scarce opportunity is warranted.
  • February 3 – Rep. Hastings’ Empty Oceans Act is a Surefire Disaster for New England’s Ocean, Fisheries and Communities – Tomorrow morning in the Nation’s Capital the House Natural Resources Committee will convene to deliberate a “discussion draft” of a bill to revise the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA). After oversight hearings by both the House and the Senate last year, Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings has made the first legislative effort to put his Congressional pen to paper. Simply put, the Hastings draft ignores the state of New England’s fisheries and the need to move modern fishery management forward.
  • February 10- Red’s Best Charts a Path Forward for Locally Sourced Seafood – Red’s Best is developing innovative technology to change the way fishermen sell to distributors and the way restaurateurs and consumers trace their seafood from boat to plate. And notwithstanding the gloom surrounding some of New England fishing operations, his business is thriving—since beginning six years ago, it’s grown from one employee to about fifty.
  • August 4 – Sorry, No Local Cod Today, Tomorrow, or Anytime Soon – Last Friday, NOAA scientists informed the New England Fishery Management Council that the most recent assessment of Gulf of Maine cod indicated that the cod were, well, collapsed would be putting it mildly. They estimated the numbers of breeding cod to be only at 3-4% of the target levels. That’s likely well less than 2% of the cod population that once dominated New England’s coastal waters.
  • November 11 – Facing the Fishing Facts – The bad news is that the emergency measures put in place this week by NMFS’s regional director John Bullard are drastic. If the past is any prelude to the future, the worse news is that the measures will not be sufficient to stop the collapse of cod.

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