January 1, 2012

Some good news for fish in 2011

By far the biggest story of the year in fisheries management was the successful implementation of annual catch limits in our fisheries. This effectively ended overfishing in America. In March, National Marine Fisheries Service Administrator Eric Schwaab announced that his agency was on track to implement science-based catch limits on all 528 federally managed species of fish, thereby preventing overfishing—the act of catching more fish than science dictates can be sustainably harvested—from occurring in U.S. fisheries.
Of course, fisheries science remains an elusive discipline, and our estimates of fish stock populations are rife with variables. This means that as more data are collected, our perceptions of the health of fish populations may change, and we may realize that what we thought were sustainable harvest levels may have been overly optimistic.
Still, given that fisheries scientists don't have a crystal ball showing what the future holds for fish populations, operating within limits that reflect the best science we have still gives the United States worldwide bragging rights to say our fisheries are the most sustainably managed on the planet. And that's no small feat. So whether you're putting a piece of Alaskan salmon or Atlantic swordfish on your plate, you can end 2011 with the assurance that if it's U.S.-caught, it's sustainable.

 The little fish that could


In November the Atlantic States Fishery Management Coalition—the interstate body charged with managing fishing that occurs primarily in state waters along the Atlantic coastal—voted 14-3 to reduce the catch limit for menhaden by 37 percent after scientific recommendations and more than 90,000 public comments urged them to take such action.

The 12-inch-long menhaden, a species that scientists and conservationists say is fundamental to the ocean food web as prey for larger species of fish, such as striped bass, and seabirds like osprey and bald eagles. Thus, catch in the menhaden fishery was not limited primarily to benefit the species itself but rather to benefit its predators.
This decision was a prime example of ecosystem-based management, a concept conservationists have been preaching for years: that we should manage a species according to its role in the ecosystem rather than simply looking at each as an individual. The menhaden decision was a step forward for such big-picture analysis.

A Strong Year for Spawning Salmon in Maine's Rivers 

More than 3,100 salmon returned to the Penobscot River, the most since 1986, and nearly 200 ascended the Narraguagus River, up from the low two digits just a decade ago.
Dr. Kocik noted that salmon from eastern Canada also seemed to be making a comeback this year. "The one thing it definitely shows is how connected all of the salmon — not only in New England, but in Atlantic Canada — are," he said, "because they are having some pretty good returns this year as well."
Ever since the Maine salmon were listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, recovery efforts have been in high gear. Biologists have studied salmon habitat and migration routes, and stocked millions of juvenile salmon. Conservation groups protected lands along hundreds of miles of salmon rivers and fought for tighter regulations on salmon farms. In 2009, federal regulators expanded the listing to include salmon habitats in Maine's largest rivers — including the Penobscot, where a dam-removal project will soon allow salmon better access to miles of spawning habitat.
Andrew Goode, a vice president at the Atlantic Salmon Federation, a conservation group, said that the population had been gradually improving since it bottomed out around 2000, but that "this year was definitely off the charts."

The Farmer in the Dell
In June, NOAA announced a new aquaculture policy that recognized the need to develop this industry domestically in a manner that addresses environmental concerns.

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