The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration submitted its annual report Wednesday to Congress on the state of all U.S. fishing stocks and did everything but paint a big smiley face on the cover.
There was very little to smile about, however, in New England and its Northeast Multispecies fishery, which continue to lead all U.S. regions in the number of damaged or imperiled stocks.
In its report, NOAA said the number of stocks subject to overfishing or being overfished are at all-time lows since it first began preparing the annual report in 1997.
At the end of 2014, according to the report, 26 of 308 assessed fish stocks, or 8 percent, are on the overfishing list, which denotes stocks with a harvest rate that is too high or, in the words of Alan Risenhoover, director of NOAA Fisheries office of sustainable fisheries, “too many fish are being taken too fast for that stock to maintain itself at productive levels.”
That is a net reduction of two stocks from 2013 and represents a 1 percent improvement.
Six stocks came off the overfishing list in 2014, including Gulf of Maine haddock and Western Atlantic bluefin tuna, while four stocks were added.
The report chronicled a similar improvement for stocks on the overfished list of stocks with a population size too low and thus in jeopardy of being unable to produce maximum sustainable yield because of factors such as overfishing, degraded habitat, climate change and changes in levels of predators.
The overfished list at the end of 2014 included 37 stocks, or 16 percent, of 228 assessed stocks compared with 40, or 17 percent, at the end of 2013. No new stocks were added to the overfished list in 2014.
“Additionally, the number of stocks that have been rebuilt increased by three to a total of 37 since we started tracking that in the year 2000,” Risenhoover said.
The results, Risenhoover said, confirms the management system established under the Magnuson-Stevens Act is working.
“Since 1976, when that act was first passed, you’ve seen a constant evolution and improvement in our management programs,” Risenhoover said. “We’ve seen improvements in our science programs, and we want to keep building on that progress.”
That progress, however, is almost non-existent among New England stocks, particularly in the Gulf of Maine, which has been shuttered to all cod fishing under the emergency measures NOAA instituted last November.
The NOAA report to Congress detailed 12 New England stocks that either are on the overfishing list or overfished list.
Seven of the stocks — Georges Bank Atlantic cod, Gulf of Maine Atlantic cod, Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank windowpane flounder, witch flounder, thorny skate and Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine yellowtail flounder and Georges Bank yellowtail flounder — are on both.
Risenhoover touted the removal of Gulf of Maine haddock from the overfishing list as “one of our success stories” but also conceded the emergency constraints on Gulf of Maine cod, which include rolling area and seasonal closures, have made it difficult for fishermen to access the healthier haddock stock to take advantage of the nearly doubling of its catch quota.
Risenhoover said NOAA plans to increase the catch quota for bluefin tuna now that it is no longer on the overfishing list.
“That’s one of the success stories, where this is a very highly prized fish,” he said. “The international community has worked together to reduce fishing effort over a number of years, domestic fishermen included. We’re starting to see the benefits of that management where we’re able to increase the quota for it.”
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