Category Archives: NOAA

Congress Take Note: New Reports Show Progress for US Fisheries

status_determination_listings_2013_status_of_stocksThe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week released two reports pointing to continued improvements in US fish stocks. Taken together, they send a clear message: that fisheries nationally are turning the corner as sustainable and more innovative management approaches take hold. Congress should take note.

The first report, the so-called Status of Stocks report to Congress  revealed that seven stocks were removed from the overfishing list last year and four from the overfished list. Two more stocks were declared “rebuilt,” bringing the total number of rebuilt stocks to 34 since 2000. Twenty-eight species are still on the report’s overfishing list, reminding us that there is still work to be done. But after decades of mismanagement that depleted fisheries and hurt coastal communities, the positive momentum of recent years is unmistakable.

The second report released concurrently by the agency, Fisheries Economics of the US 2012, underscored the critical role that healthy fisheries play in our nation’s economy. According to the report, U.S. commercial and recreational saltwater fishing generated more than $199 billion in sales in 2012, a gain of 7% over the previous year. It also found that the economic impact of fishing jobs increased 3% from 2011 to 2012. Such year-on-year growth is to be welcomed.

2012_feus_jobsThe news in U.S. fisheries is not universally positive. A number of fish populations remain in serious trouble, and there are individual fishermen in some regions who face enormous financial hardship through no fault of their own. We should not lose sight of that. But we also shouldn’t allow that to obscure the clear trend towards more vibrant fisheries that we’ve seen in recent years.

 

Let’s hope that Congress is taking clear note of what these reports say as it tackles three important issues in the coming weeks:

  • Appropriations: The House and Senate are currently moving through committee the bill that will fund the National Marine Fisheries Service in fiscal year 2015.  It is crucial that we continue to invest in the management of our nation’s fisheries to ensure their continued recovery and long-term success. Just as we invest in roads and bridges on land, the information infrastructure of fisheries is what allows the economy around them to thrive. As Congress struggles with tight budgets, it must do more to give the National Marine Fisheries Service the financial resources it needs to succeed.
  • Anti-Fisheries Rider: In what has become an unfortunate annual tradition, Congressman Steve Southerland of Florida seems set to make another attempt to usurp the authority of local fishery managers by taking an important fishery management tool called catch shares out of their toolbox. Improved management in a number of fisheries through the adoption of catch shares is a critical ingredient in the successes that last week’s reports details. By aligning the economic and conservation interests of participants in these fisheries, catch shares have allowed fishermen the freedom to fish when it makes sense for them, given them a tangible stake in the long-term health of the fishery, and enabled more robust enforcement of science-based catch limits. According to NOAA’s economic report,

“[c]atch share programs are helping to improve economic efficiency and encourage more sustainable fishing practices. They are also designed to produce more fish at lower costs, improve fishermen’s safety and profits, and strengthen the biological and economic benefits in a fishery.”

Members of Congress should think hard before supporting Rep. Southerland’s short-sited and parochial amendment when it comes to the floor.

  • MSA Reauthorization: Both the House Natural Resources and Senate Commerce Committees have started circulating discussion drafts of legislation that would reauthorize the nation’s premier federal fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, or MSA. It’s commendable that congressional leaders are reviewing how the law is working and whether improvements may be possible. But some ideas for reform would turn back the clock, ignoring the progress that’s been made since the law was last strengthened through reauthorization in 2007. As lawmakers in the House and Senate move towards consideration of reauthorization drafts, they would be well served to take a cautious approach, and recognize that their first obligation given current progress is to do no harm.

Last week’s reports are another reminder of just how important the fishing industry is to our economy.  We are encouraged that smart management is continuing to yield positive results for both fish stocks and fishermen. Through its past leadership, Congress deserves to share in the credit for this progress. It should build on that success to ensure it continues in the years ahead.

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It’s Official: U.S. fisheries continued their upward trend in 2012

Photo Credit: NOAA

Each year, the National Marine Fisheries Service provides the public with a “statistical snapshot” of fish landings in the United States. This week, the numbers for 2012 were released via the agency’s Fisheries in the United States report. The national picture in terms of the quantity and value of fish landed was once again encouraging. And although we didn’t quite reach the historic level of 2011—which set a new record for landings value —the upward trend enabled by improved fisheries management is unmistakable.

The raw numbers in the report are another reminder of the critical role fishing plays as an economic driver in the United States. U.S. commercial fishermen landed 9.6 billion pounds of seafood in 2012, valued at $5.1 billion. The ex-vessel value of seafood landed in Alaska alone was $1.7 billion; $618.2 million in Massachusetts; $448.5 million in Maine. Those figures don’t include economic benefits derived throughout the value chain, with jobs created and supported at the docks, in processing, transportation and sales.

Recreational fisheries are also experiencing robust activity.   More than nine million anglers took 70 million trips last year, catching nearly 380 million fish. The estimated total catch weight was more than 200 million pounds, the most popular species being spotted seatrout, Atlantic croaker, black sea bass, summer flounder and red drum. Numerous other reports and studies have documented the economic benefits that recreational fishing stimulates, supporting jobs in industries ranging from marine manufacturing to tourism.

Without healthy, sustainable fisheries, none of these benefits would accrue. It’s true that we have more work to do to ensure that all our nation’s fisheries are being managed for long-term health, and that fishermen in some regions still face daunting economic challenges. But taken as a whole, this week’s report provides further evidence that the reforms of recent years are paying dividends. The value of commercial seafood landed in 2012 was almost 20% higher than the average of the last decade.

Ultimately that means more money in the pockets of fishermen—who in many parts of the country are seeing a return on their investment in new rights-based management approaches that incentivize conservation and ensure compliance with science-based catch limits.

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New management plan continues to yield conservation & economic benefits in Pacific groundfishery: NOAA report

fishery observer

WCGOP Observer
Photo Credit: NOAA Report, supplied by Sean Sullivan

On September 24, NOAA Fisheries released their report on the second year (2012) of the West Coast Groundfish Catch Shares Program, a program that EDF has been instrumental in helping to develop, implement and improve. The report notes the spirit of partnership that helped bring a catch share management system to the Pacific Coast, and praises the program's conservation and economic performance. Mostly, however, NOAA credits fishermen for using the flexibility afforded under catch shares to improve their long-term economic prospects and avoid overfished species.

 

 

Here are some highlights:

  • Conservation: The report notes “a significant reduction in the amount of bycatch,” of overfished species, and concludes that the program “is actively rebuilding several groundfish stocks.”
  • Catch: Harvest of target stocks continues to improve—up 5% from 2011.
  • Business Flexibility: Transfers of quota between fishermen increased dramatically in comparison with 2011, and were relatively constant throughout the year. This increase indicates better understanding among fishermen of how to leverage their allotment for efficient business planning.

NOAA’s report also reflects the strong and growing interest among West Coast fishery stakeholders in transitioning from 100% observer coverage on groundfish boats to lower cost alternatives, like cameras, that will still ensure 100% accountability for all catch.

The West Coast catch shares program is still a work in progress, but NOAA’s analysis is very encouraging.

“The report from the second year reinforces what we’re seeing. There are a lot of positive things happening that provide a solid foundation for building on,” said Shems Jud, Deputy Director of EDF’s Pacific Ocean team. “By working with fishermen now to help lower their operating costs and expand fishing opportunity, we think this program can be made durable for the long-term, and eventually turn into a real economic success story.”

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Newsflash! Warming oceans=changes in fish populations and ecosystems

A number of scientific studies indicate that warming waters are affecting fish populations globally—and often in unpredictable ways. This finding is significant for fisheries management because as fish populations shift, whole ecosystems are changed. A recent study covering 40 years of data illuminates these changes in fish distributions and a Huffington Post article examines the research conducted to date and highlights the uncertain implications of this knowledge. The article extensively quotes our own scientist and Director of Spatial Initiatives, Jake Kritzer. Jake comments on the difficulty of making management predications without a complete understanding of how complex underwater ecosystems are shifting:

“It's an immensely complicated situation. You have climate change overlaying everything, and it seems to be changing the way everything works, which means we have a lot of problems. It's getting harder and harder to assess the stocks, to model them and understand their dynamics and predict what's going to happen. Because those models are based on years and years of experience reading fish stocks and studying them, they have been tested over a long time and they rely on a certain set of assumptions and conditions that now seem to be rapidly changing. Tools that have been fairly well established and worked well in the past just don't seem to be working as well anymore."

Read the full Huffington Post article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/17/ocean-climate-change-fishing-industry_n_3275505.html

Access the recent study published in Nature from researchers in British Columbia: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v497/n7449/full/497320a.html

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Managing Our Nations Fisheries 3 Conference: Take away messages

America’s fishing laws are generally working well to rebuild fish stocks, but there is still work to be done to make sure that our sustainable fisheries are sustainable for fishermen. That was the takeaway message from the recent gathering of the nation’s top fisheries advisors, scientists, members of regional councils and the eNGO community who gathered in Washington DC for the “Managing Our Nations Fisheries 3” conference on May 7-9. The conference convened to discuss how concepts, policies, and practice of fishery sustainability can be advanced to make the system work better for fishermen and fishing communities. It provided a forum for information exchange and an opportunity to hear a wide range of perspectives on the sustainability of fish stocks and ecosystem, and the fishing communities that depend on them.

This conference is an important exercise because it gives the entire fishing community (managers, fishermen, NGOs, industry etc.) the opportunity to think broadly about what’s been happening on the water and apply it to big policy issues that need to be resolved, clarified or improved. Among the issues identified during the conference:

  1. Recreational fishermen would like more representation and consideration in fisheries management decisions
  2. Forage fish protection is a topic being heavily studied by NGO groups
  3. Regional councils are interested in innovating around the 10 year rebuilding timelines mandated in the 2006 Magnuson law.
  4. Fishing stakeholders are interested in pursuing American seafood certification to assure economic stability for domestic fisheries
  5. A central theme reiterated by scientists, fishery stakeholders and NOAA is that accurate and timely data information is essential to making informed management decisions. NOAA and councils need to work more closely with fishermen and innovate solutions for data poor fisheries.

In the United States, catch shares have brought stability and sustainability to fisheries once in turmoil from overfishing. From the Gulf of Maine to the Gulf of Mexico and all the way to the Bering Sea, fishermen have more stable and flexible businesses and fisheries are recovering from years of overfishing.  If you add our neighbors to the north, Canada, there are 15 catch shares that have shown significant improvements in the stability of jobs, revenues and increased safety.  All over the world fishermen are learning from the work that American fishermen and fishery managers have done to save our nation’s fisheries. Read More »

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Finding the Ecological Cliff and Staying Away from It: Thresholds for Sustainability

In “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,” author and journalist, Malcolm Gladwell explains how sociological changes often happen very quickly and unexpectedly.   He describes a tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”

It turns out that many natural ecosystems have tipping points too, called ecological thresholds.  Healthy ocean ecosystems can resist change, exist in alternative states and recover from storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions – and even from human activities like pollution and fishing.  Having more than one species that do similar things but in slightly different ways helps ecosystems stay healthy; i.e., makes them resilient.  But when we reduce species so much that they can't play their ecological roles or when we stress the system too much, these ecosystems can reach a tipping point and change rapidly from beautiful, productive systems to damaged systems that are incapable of creating the wonders and benefits they once produced. 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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NOAA Cites West Coast Trawl Fishery Improvements

Winona J Docked in Newport, Oregon

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest regional administrator William Stelle had an op-ed in the Portland Oregonian on Saturday that discussed progress in the West Coast groundfish catch share program during its first year of implementation.

The op-ed, Managing the Pacific fishery: Catch share system recasts commercial fishing, discusses how the fishery was managed and carried out prior to 2011. “Fishermen would fish hard, regardless of weather or market conditions, resulting in safety issues and a boom-and-bust supply of fish,” Stelle wrote. “The result: shorter seasons, potentially unsafe conditions, high levels of bycatch and sharply limited marketing opportunities, which depressed prices, profits and wages.”

Under the new program, landings stayed strong; revenues shot up to $54 million for the fleet in 2011, versus an annual average of $38 million over the previous five years; and discards in the non-whiting groundfish fleet plummeted from 17% in 2010 to less than 5% in 2011.

To read the full op-ed click here. 

Also posted in EDF Oceans General, Pacific | 1 Response, comments now closed