Category Archives: New England

Maximizing Limited Data to Improve Fishery Management

By Ashley Apel

According to a recent study published in Science, nearly 80% of the world’s catch comes from “data-limited” fisheries.  Not surprisingly, research shows that many of these fisheries are facing collapse, jeopardizing the food security of hundreds of millions of people in developing countries who depend on seafood for a majority of their dietary protein.

Historically, fisheries with little data had few science-based management options. But new methods are being continuously developed and used in the field that deliver science-based results, even in the absence of long-term, historical catch data. Since fishery stock assessments can be extremely complex, EDF recently developed a user-friendly, six-step framework as part of an overall guide to Science-Based Management of Data-Limited Fisheries.

The framework outlines a systematic approach that fishery managers can use to conduct quick and relatively inexpensive assessments.  The methods allow stakeholders in data-limited fisheries to estimate risks to marine ecosystems, determine vulnerability of a stock to fishing pressure, calculate the level of overfishing, assess the sustainability of the fishery, and establish sustainable fishing targets and other management reference points.  

Download the guide on Science-Based Management of Data-Limited Fisheries or download the entire toolkit for fisheries.  Feel free to send questions or comments to catchsharequestions@edf.org.

Also posted in Alaska, Catch Shares, Cuba, EDF Oceans General, Global Fisheries, Latin America & Caribbean, Mexico, Mid-Atlantic, Pacific, Science/Research, South Atlantic| Comments closed

Effective monitoring is critical for the New England groundfish fishery

[Video credit: Archipelago, NMFS and Frank Mirarchi- FV Barbara Peters]

Collecting timely, accurate and complete information from fishing vessels is fundamental to successful fisheries management.  There is an important nexus between the quantity and quality of data collected by monitoring programs that are used for fisheries science and management that makes it more credible to industry and other stakeholders.

EDF continues to work to improve the performance of New England groundfish sectors by supporting the design and implementation of a cost-effective and comprehensive monitoring program that incorporates the use of electronic monitoring (EM).  The current crisis facing the groundfish fishery with low stock abundance and resulting quota cuts, and high uncertainty of stock assessments, highlights the need to produce reliable fisheries information.

Benefits of electronic monitoring:

Monitoring provides a number of benefits to managers, scientists and industry alike.  A well-designed program enables managers to set and monitor annual catch limits (ACLs) and sector quotas – the foundation of the management system.  The information collected provides managers with a better understanding of the effectiveness and impact of management measures on the fleet.  Monitoring programs can also be an early detector of changing environmental conditions, signaling that a shift in stock abundance or other ecosystem change is occurring, providing managers with an opportunity to respond.

A robust monitoring program allows scientists to better account for total catch and characteristics of the catch to reduce uncertainty in the data needed for reliable stock assessments.  With increasing scientific uncertainty of stock status and distrust of stock assessments by the fishing industry and other stakeholders, monitoring is critically important to improving our understanding and increasing confidence in these assessments.

For industry, monitoring increases participation in management and research and moves towards greater co-management of the fishery.  It also allows industry to improve product traceability and marketing.  And it allows industry to track their quota caught in real-time, an essential element to ensure catch limits are not exceeded.

Overcoming challenges:

In New England, there have been numerous challenges to improving the effectiveness of the groundfish sector monitoring program.  The program is costly and relies on incomplete information with too many assumptions that lead to increased uncertainty and bias in science and management, making it hard for fishermen to operate efficiently.

EDF is collaborating with industry, the New England Fishery Management Council (Council), NOAA and other stakeholders to bring the sector monitoring program into the 21st century by approving the use of EM to improve the effectiveness of the program while reducing costs.

Used in conjunction with traditional data collection methods like onboard observers and dockside monitors, these technologies can achieve comprehensive and cost-effective monitoring. Read More »

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Closed areas can decrease uncertainty in effects of climate change on New England Fisheries

Gulf of Maine Map

Photo Credit: New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance

As fishermen around New England will be the first to point out, this summer, much like last year, has been abnormal. The ocean waters were warmer and cod, haddock, and flounders—the mainstay of our fishing industry for centuries—are increasingly elusive. There’s plenty of blame to go around, including decades of mismanagement and overfishing, inexact science and a mismatch in abundance of certain predatory species. Looking beyond these factors, the impact of climate change on fisheries is another factor driving fish abundance that’s worth a hard look.

The level of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere has now exceeded 400 parts per million, contributing to rising ocean temperatures. Some of the fastest increases in the last few decades have occurred in the Northwest Atlantic, and 2012 registered the largest annual increase in mean sea surface temperature for the Northwest Atlantic in the last 30 years.  

It is clear that climate change is disrupting New England’s fisheries right now; it is no longer an abstract, future scenario.

In the face of this evidence, fisheries managers need to factor in climate change alongside fishing effort and other elements when determining how to manage and rebuild fish stocks. The impacts of climate change can prevent fisheries management inactions from rebuilding fish populations, and conversely, excess fishing pressure can hinder the ability of a fish population to adapt to changes in climate. As I have written recently, a network of well-designed closed areas represents a promising management strategy to address the effect of climate change on fisheries.

Warming waters, shifting populations:

The mechanisms by which shifts in water temperature affect fish populations are not completely understood, but temperature driven changes have been observed in various species. Species’ response to climate change may be manifested as a shift in geographical distribution of the species, an expansion or contraction of the species’ range, or a change in depth distribution. Shifts in abundance are likely to be most apparent for species on the southern end of their range, and indeed shifts in fisheries distribution caused by warming waters are already taking place in the Northwest Atlantic. One study found a number of fish stocks in New England have shifted their center of biomass northward over the past 40 years.

Climate-driven shifts have been documented for cod in particular, one of the most economically, ecologically, and culturally important fish species in New England. Cod stocks on Georges Bank and in the Gulf of Maine are at the southern end of their range in the Northwest Atlantic. Temperature influences the distribution of cod in the region, and warmer water temperature has also been linked to a decline in productivity in the Gulf of Maine.

While climate change may be affecting iconic species in New England fisheries, other species may also be shifting their distribution north to areas where they are not typically found. Several news articles in local media outlets this summer featured fishermen who described the changes they’ve witnessed in the distribution of fish species. Fishermen in Maine have seen increasing numbers of black sea bass and longfin squid – species not traditionally seen in the Gulf of Maine – while fishermen in Rhode Island are catching warm water species like cobia and Atlantic croaker.

Finding management solutions to uncertain changes:

The New England Fishery Management Council is currently working to design a new network of closed areas in the region, which would build resilience in the fishery by providing protection for fish, as they shift their distribution and as they adapt to a changing ecosystem, thereby protecting fishermen’s businesses in the long-term.

Closed areas can protect the territory most critical to the productivity of target fish species, including important but vulnerable habitats, areas important for foraging and areas that harbor critical life stages like large spawners and juveniles. Refuges from fishing pressure can provide further resilience for fish species faced with a changing environment and a well-designed network of closed areas provides important stepping stones for fish species shifting their distribution in response to warming waters.

One way to increase resilience to climate change is to rebuild the population structure for overexploited fish stocks. Fishing pressure typically targets the largest (and oldest) fish. However, large, old females are typically more successful breeders, producing a much larger number of healthy larvae, and spawning more frequently than their smaller counterparts. Closed areas designed around known spawning grounds or other areas where these large females congregate can preserve a population of older, larger fish within the stock, reducing their exposure to fishing pressure and allowing them to reproduce and contribute to stock rebuilding.

Climate change needs to be considered when designing properly functioning closed areas, understanding that both fish and fishing effort may shift as a result of environmental change.

Uncertainty is inherent in both the marine ecosystem and our management of fisheries, and creating closed areas can ensure some level of insurance against this uncertainty.  A closed area network for New England’s fisheries should be broadly distributed throughout the region to provide refuges to fish, particularly as stocks shift northward from their traditional areas of abundance. A well-designed network of linked closed areas can allow species distribution to shift in response to climate change, but remain at least partially protected. This will be important not only to fish but to fishermen, creating the resiliency needed in a healthy fishery to support the long-term interests of the fishing industry.

This closed area network can provide resilience to climate change in the near term, and can be adapted to meet changing conditions as species shift.  The Council needs to consider climate change when making decisions about developing this closed area network.  They should not miss the opportunity to take a positive step in the direction of managing for a changing climate.

Dr. Sarah Smith is a member of EDF Ocean's Spatial and Ecosystems Initiatives team

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Eating with the Ecosystem: Georges Bank


Eating with the EcosystemEating with the Ecosystem is a project created to help consumers learn about the marine waters from which New England seafood is harvested.  The project aims to build upon related efforts focused on sustainable seafood and eating local by urging consumers to think about the suite of species living together in a given place, and their ecological interactions and fluctuations in abundance.  In other words, their mission is to grow awareness of individual species to awareness of the entire ecosystem.

One important message of Eating with the Ecosystem is that consumers should focus on healthy stocks so that we benefit from abundance while allowing other resources to recover.  Today, this means being willing to try species that are unfamiliar to many seafood lovers.  As we work to recover well-known species like cod and flounder, species such as dogfish, skates, hake, pollock and redfish present opportunities to offset lost revenue for fishermen, and for diners to try some new tastes.  Fortunately, based on the results of a poll conducted collaboratively by EDF and the Center for Marketing Research at UMass-Dartmouth, consumers seem willing to give those species a chance.

In the spirit of the “trash fish” dinner recently sponsored by the Chef’s Collaborative, Eating with the Ecosystem is hosting a series of dinners across New England to showcase underappreciated seafood and the ecosystems from which it comes. I was fortunate to attend their most recent event highlighting the Georges Bank ecosystem, which was held at one of my favorite restaurants: Ten Tables, located right in my own neighborhood, Boston’s Jamaica Plain.

The menu began with a simple sea scallop ceviche served with Hakurei turnip, green apple and arugula.  As the basis of the most valuable fishery in the United States, sea scallops are far from unknown in the market!  But the stock is abundant, and no meal focused on the Georges Bank would be complete without scallops on the menu.

Next up was a house cured hake brandade, served alongside pickles and mini toasts.  There are actually three different species of hake found on Georges Bank: white, red and silver.  An interesting ecological linkage between the first course and the second is that juvenile red hake take shelter inside adult sea scallops after beginning their lives as tiny larvae drifting among the plankton and then settling to the seafloor. Read More »

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‘Fish on Fridays’: Chefs Collaborative shines the spotlight on underappreciated New England groundfish

Trash Fish Dinner Invitation Today’s ‘Fish on Friday’ post will be a little bit different. Rather than focusing on a single species or fisherman, we want to highlight a growing movement and event to celebrate lesser known fish species and support New England fishermen—who need the support now more than ever.

With substantial catch reductions looming for Atlantic cod and several other popular species, you might think that buying sustainable, local seafood would be more challenging than ever. However there are many other healthy fish populations in New England’s waters, and with a little creativity, they could become staples of your seafood repertoire.

Sometimes called “trash fish,” underutilized fish species such as redfish, hake, Atlantic pollock and sea robin, have long taken a back seat on fishing vessels and restaurant menus to more popular species, such as cod. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth your attention.

So if you’d like to support the New England fishing industry as you enjoy a delicious seafood dinner for Lent, consider giving some of these species a try. Chef Michael Leviton, chef/owner of Lumiere in Newton, MA, and Area Four in Cambridge, MA, believes so strongly in the potential for these species he’s organizing a “coming out” party for these fish on behalf of Chefs Collaborative, of which he is also chairman of the board.

 

The Event: Trash Fish Dinner

On March 10, Leviton will join chefs Rich Garcia, Larry Leibowitz, Evan Mallett, Mary Reilly, Jake Rojas, Michael Scelfo, Derek Wagner and Drew Hedlund as they present a multi-course Trash Fish Dinner featuring underutilized species at Area Four. Dinner will be followed by a discussion of the future of sustainable seafood. Environmental Defense Fund is a lead sponsor of the event.

As for how to prepare these fish at home, hake and pollock substitute well for most recipes that call for cod or haddock. Sea robin, known for its bright, wing-like fins and its propensity for stealing bait, is often used in traditional Italian recipes or as an ingredient in bouillabaisse.

Can’t make it to the March 10 Chefs Collaborative dinner? Consider trying Chef Rich Garcia’s mouthwatering recipe for ‘Trash Fish’ Minestrone:

 

‘Trash Fish’ Minestrone:

Ingredients

8 ounces dried Maine Yellow Eyed beans soaked overnight (any dried white bean will work)

3 ounces slab bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces

2 Tablespoons olive oil blend

5 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 pieces celery, medium dice

2 medium onions, medium dice

3 carrots, peeled and medium dice

8 cups lobster stock (you can also use good quality fish stock)

1 white potato cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1/2 cup winter squash medium dice (butternut, red kuri etc)

15 ounce canned plum tomatoes drained and chopped

1/2 cup shredded Savoy cabbage

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil

6 ounce kale rough chopped

8 ounces cooked Maine lobster, cut into bite-sized pieces

8 ounces Gulf Of Maine Acadian red fish fillets, boneless/skinless cut into 1×1 chunks and sautéed until cooked

8 ounces Gulf Of Maine Pollock boneless/skinless cut into 1×1 chunks and sautéed until cooked

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Instructions:

Cook the soaked beans in water until they are just tender. Reserve.

Using a large, heavy soup pot, fry the bacon in the olive oil. Add the garlic, stirring and cooking until it starts to just brown. Add the chopped celery, onion, and carrots, stirring and cooking until the vegetables start to soften. Stir in the lobster stock and bring the mixture to a boil.

Add the potatoes and squash and cook until they start to soften, then stir in the beans, plum tomatoes, Savoy cabbage, kale and basil. Simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes. Season to taste with sea salt and fresh pepper.

When ready to serve, bring the soup to just under a boil and stir in the fish and Maine lobster and cook over gentle heat until seafood is warmed through. Transfer to soup bowls and sprinkle 1 Tablespoon of fresh parmesan cheese on top.

Serves 12

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New England Catch Shares Ruled Legitimate by 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals

1st Circuit Court of Appeals logoIn a long-awaited decision, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a 2011 lower court ruling confirming the legality of the NE sector program.

Ruling on a suit brought by the ports of New Bedford and Gloucester, as well as fishermen and fishing groups, the justices determined that the NE sector program form of catch share complies with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The court found that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) had adequately considered the impact of the program and taken the proper steps to accomplish its goals, including environmental conservation, increasing economic benefits and holding fishermen accountable for staying within catch limits.

The three judge panel noted that, rather than destroying smaller business, many believe the new rules provide better protection. The judges also said federal regulators installed the law properly. "The Secretary (of Commerce's) judgments here were derived from the record, rational, and not based on any error of law," the court wrote. Read the full opinion here.

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Building Resilient New England Fisheries in the Face of Climate Change

Photo Credit: Natacha Hardy.
Alex Koeberle and Scituate Fisherman Frank Mirarchi

By: Alex Koeberle and Jake Kritzer

Following the hottest summer ever on record, the Atlantic coast was rocked recently by super storm Sandy, both stark reminders that climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events.  This year had already seen effects of climate change take on a more prominent place in marine conservation debates.  In July, renowned Australian ecologist Dr. Roger Bradbury argued that the fate of coral reefs is essentially sealed due to warming waters, rising seas, acidification and extreme weather (although other prominent voices were quick to counter such doomsday predictions).  Closer to home, an effort to restore Atlantic salmon to the Connecticut River was ended after nearly a half-century, in part because changing ocean currents, temperature regimes and plankton production might be impairing the ability of salmon to survive at sea and migrate back to spawn.

It is not only salmon that are contending with effects of climate change in New England.  The region is seeing sea levels rising faster than many other places around the globe, which threatens to drown salt marshes already struggling with excessive nutrient loads.  Marshes help buffer coastal areas against storm surge, and provide vital nursery and feeding grounds for many important fish species.  Ocean waters are not only rising but warming as well, one consequence of which has been a dramatic shift in the distribution of cod north of the primary fishing grounds in the western Gulf of Maine.  Also, rainfall patterns are becoming increasingly erratic, altering salinity profiles and plankton production, which hampers productivity of species throughout the food web. Read More »

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EDF Supports Industry Participation in Science

Photo from NOAA/NEMFC invitation

On November 9 the New England groundfish industry will have an opportunity to discuss the state of fishery science with scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The workshop in Portsmouth, NH responds to criticism generated by abrupt changes in scientific evaluations of the status of fish stocks that support fishing communities from Maine to New Jersey. The goal of the meeting is to improve assessments by sharing knowledge among fishermen and scientists.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) supports greater involvement of fishermen in the stock assessment process and encourages fishermen to work with scientists to ensure that their knowledge and experience add to our understanding of these valuable resources. EDF has developed recommendations aimed at producing the most dependable stock assessments possible. The accumulated knowledge of the fishing industry can contribute to improved stock assessments, and greater industry participation can increase confidence in fishery science.

The first priority is to expand the fleet of potential survey vessels by augmenting surveys by government boats with more extensive surveys using commercial fishing vessels. We believe this is the single most important step that can be taken to improve the reliability of stock assessments and confidence in those assessments. Read More »

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