We have a lot to be proud of in the United States when it comes to fisheries management. This week the New York Times highlighted the comeback of U.S. fisheries with an inspiring story of recovery. And today, NOAA Fisheries released its annual Status of Stocks report, confirming that the management reforms implemented over the last decade are continuing to deliver remarkable results.
For fish geeks, the annual Status of Stocks report is our “State of the Union." It’s an opportunity to take a big-picture look at where things stand, as well as to consider at a more granular level specific regions and fisheries where further reforms may be needed.
At a big-picture level, today’s report is another clear indication that “the state of our fisheries is strong." Indeed, it reveals that in 2015 the Fish Stock Sustainability Index (FSSI) – the composite index that tracks the health of key commercial and recreational stocks that account for 85% of total catch – hit an all-time high. The relentless upward march of the index since 2000 is stunning, and reflects the success of fishermen, managers and conservationists working region by region, fishery by fishery, to end unsustainable open-access management and implement reforms that incentivize conservation. Read More
By: Kristin M. Kleisner
Last week at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum, a session entitled “Questioning our Changing Oceans,” sponsored by The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, The Environmental Defense Fund, The Island Institute, and The Nature Conservancy, sought to address some of the major issues related to climate change that the fishing industry has been experiencing. The panel included Jake Kritzer (EDF) as well as local scientists Andy Pershing (GMRI) and Jon Hare (NOAA), along with headliners Capt. Keith Coburn of the hit show ‘Deadliest Catch’, Capt. Buddy Guindon of the new breakout hit ‘Big Fish, Texas,’ and fishermen from as far as Western Australia.
The panel highlighted two NOAA studies recently published in PLOS ONE that highlight the vulnerability of marine fish and invertebrate species such as American lobster and scallops on the U.S. Northeast Shelf to the effects of climate change. Both studies illuminate important trends in species adaptation that will help inform future management decisions in the region. Read More
Heat map showing warming waters in the Gulf of Maine over time. Credit: Pershing et al.
Climate change is preventing cod from rebuilding in New England. Many scientists and fishermen believe this, and a study released last week in Science by Dr. Andrew Pershing from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and his co-authors provides new evidence to support this claim.
A brief history
Cod, an iconic species and a mainstay of New England fisheries, were overfished for decades, with catch levels peaking during the 1980s. In 2010, the fishery transitioned to the current quota-based management system under an Annual Catch Limit (ACL). Bringing cod under a fixed quota system should have ended overfishing and brought about recovery of the stock, but in recent years the biomass of Gulf of Maine cod has continued to decline, and was estimated in 2014 to be at just 3-4% of sustainable levels. Fishermen are catching fewer cod every year, and the quota is now so low that most fishermen actively try to avoid catching them. Yet despite these very strict catch limits, Gulf of Maine cod have not rebounded and the region’s fishermen are suffering devastating economic consequences. Read More
Atlantic Cod; Photo Credit: NOAA
In yesterday’s New York Times, Oceana’s Gib Brogan raised serious concerns in an Opinion piece, “A Knockout Blow for American Fish Stocks,” about both the future facing New England cod and the New England Management Council’s stewardship of the region’s fisheries resource. We share many of Gib’s concerns.
Fisheries management is too often presented as a choice between protecting the environment, on the one hand, and the economic interests of fishermen and coastal communities on the other. But we know from our experience in United States that the two are inextricably linked. With many fisheries around the country rebounding, fishermen are among the primary beneficiaries as catch limits increase. Conversely in New England, the collapse of cod presents a significant challenge to coastal fishing businesses; and the recent initiatives of the council on habitat and monitoring are dangerous precisely because they further jeopardize the fishery’s long-term prospects. Read More
Fishing boats in Chatham, MA. Photo: Tim Connor
What every fishing port in New England has long feared has now come true: the iconic cod fish is disappearing in our waters. If our shared goal is to rebuild a sustainable fishery for years to come, then we need to better understand what is happening to the fish stocks. This calls for better science, which has been the subject of discussion for years.
A key foundation of better science is better catch monitoring. Inadequate catch data is the Achilles heel of the groundfish fishery in New England – particularly with cod – and the only way to improve this in a cost-effective way is through a comprehensive monitoring system that uses video technology. Read More
Fishing boats in Chatham, MA. Photo credit: Tim Connor, EDF
It’s time to face the fact that the cod fishery in New England is on the verge of collapse. The problem has been a long time coming. Decades of heavy fishing pressure, federal subsidies, counterproductive political intervention, unpredictable science, inadequate catch data and now climate change, have brought the iconic cod fishery to its knees.
The calls for a closure are increasing and it’s getting harder to justify opposition to such a move.
Some would say this centuries old fishery, a staple of New England, needs a miracle. But what it really needs is leadership. Now is the time for our leaders to step up and make hard choices. Are we going to let New England’s cod become a relic? Or are we going to reverse the tide and do everything necessary to bring this important fishery back from the brink? Read More