The 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. Read More
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. Read More
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. Read More
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
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. Read More
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
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
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.