Ocean Currents » fish http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 26 Apr 2017 18:18:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 It’s Time to Do the Right Thing for Summer Flounder http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/10/its-time-to-do-the-right-thing-for-summer-flounder/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/10/its-time-to-do-the-right-thing-for-summer-flounder/#comments Fri, 10 Mar 2017 21:12:54 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13899

Charles A. Witek, III is an attorney, salt water angler and blogger.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries’ successful rebuilding of the summer flounder stock was one of the mid-Atlantic region’s greatest conservation success stories.

By 1989, summer flounder had become severely overfished. The total spawning stock was estimated at a mere 5,521 metric tons, and biologists were able to find very few fish that were more than two years old. After that, a very slow rebuilding process began, which was badly hindered by managers who subordinated the needs of the recovering stock to the short-term economic concerns of the fishing industry.

The rebuilding effort got a big boost in 2000, when a federal appellate court, in a case titled Natural Resources Defense Council v. Daley, slammed the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to adopt a rebuilding plan that had a realistic chance to end overfishing. Faced with a plan that had only an 18% chance of avoiding overfishing, the court observed that “Only in Superman Comics’ Bizarro world, where reality is turned upside down, could [the National Marine Fisheries] Service reasonably conclude that a measure that is at least four times as likely to fail as succeed offers a ‘fairly high level of confidence.’”

Such court found that, in order to comply with applicable federal law, a fisheries management plan must have at least a 50% chance of achieving its goals.

After that decision, the pace of the summer flounder recovery increased. Although elements of both the commercial and recreational fisheries were unhappy with the more restrictive regulations that were imposed, no one complained when the spawning stock increased nearly tenfold, to 53,156 metric tons, by 2010. Regulations were relaxed and, buoyed by an abundance of fish, both the recreational and commercial fishing industries thrived.

Unfortunately, some things are beyond human control. Beginning in 2010, the recruitment of young flounder into the population declined sharply. Although fishery managers have yet to determine a reason, such recruitment has remained below average for six consecutive years, and no one can predict when it will improve.

As a result, the spawning stock biomass has been steadily shrinking. In 2016, biologists completed an update to the summer flounder stock assessment and advised that “the stock biomass is dangerously close to being overfished, which could happen as early as next year if increased efforts to curb fishing mortality are not undertaken.”

In response to that advice, NOAA Fisheries determined that the annual catch limit for summer flounder had to be reduced by 30%.

Despite the clear need for such reduction, it was not well received in the recreational fishing community. Magazine editors, fishing tackle dealers and party boat captains were quick to condemn NOAA’s action, arguing that it was not based on good science, and would cause severe economic harm. NOAA Fisheries disagreed, with a spokeswoman for its Greater Atlantic Region Fisheries Office pointing out that the reduction is based on “the best scientific information available” and “is necessary to end overfishing and ensure that the stock does not become overfished.”

Despite such reassurances, two New Jersey congressmen, Rep. Frank Pallone and Rep. Frank LoBiondo are threatening to introduce legislation that would block the harvest reduction and extend the 2016 annual catch limit through the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Passing such legislation, should it be introduced, would be a grave error. The science underlying the current summer flounder stock assessment has undergone peer review by a panel of internationally-recognized fisheries experts. The need for the harvest reduction has been endorsed by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s Science and Statistics Committee, composed of eighteen PhD-level scientists. When that many experts agree that summer flounder need help, it is prudent to listen.

The fishing industry is focused on the short-term impacts of the harvest reduction, while fishery managers are focused on the long-term health of the stock. A short-term focus may prove more profitable for a year or two, but will soon lead to an overfished stock unable to support a thriving recreational fishery. On the other hand, by focusing on the summer flounder’s long-term health, managers can best assure that a healthy stock and a healthy fishery will survive well into the future.

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Manliest Catch: The Lack of Women in Fisheries and Why Diversity Makes Us Stronger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/09/manliest-catch-the-lack-of-women-in-fisheries-and-why-diversity-makes-us-stronger/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/09/manliest-catch-the-lack-of-women-in-fisheries-and-why-diversity-makes-us-stronger/#comments Thu, 09 Mar 2017 14:00:06 +0000 Corey Ridings http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13873

In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating stand out #WomeninConservtion all week long. Here, Corey Ridings, a Policy Analyst with our Sustainable Fisheries team, reflects on the representation of women in fisheries management

Our ocean fish populations are managed in a unique system where stakeholders take a lead role in crafting management strategies. But historical patterns have resulted in significant underrepresentation of women in this process.

America’s federal fisheries are largely managed by a group of stakeholder councils that include 116 voting members across eight regions. The original vision for this system, outlined in 1976 by Congress, was bold and idealistic: directly include those with local interests and regional experience in the management process. Membership includes state managers, federal agency representatives and stakeholders nominated by state Governors and appointed by the Secretary of Commerce.

While this politicized system has its successes and failures, for better or worse it is a rare example of the public managing its own natural resource. However, in reality, most Councils do not look like the public they represent and serve: less than one in five members are women, and almost all are socially-identified as white.

This lack of diversity is not limited to the Council meeting room, but is also common on the decks of commercial fishing boats across the country. Of 185,263 commercial fishermen in federal fisheries, we can list nearly all the women by name. Exclusion isn’t just a matter or physical ability, but in many cases is based solely on cultural norms.

This is not just a hypothetical issue for me–I have experienced it firsthand. As an observer in the Alaskan groundfish fleet, I had the rare opportunity to live and work on a commercial vessel. I loved it. The raw beauty of the ocean, the Alaskan landscape, the pain of physical labor and the extreme isolation that is almost impossible to find today. I’ve also worked in fisheries policy, first in Congress and now as an advocate for sustainable fisheries. While the opposite of isolation, it is a joy to work with scientists, managers and industry representatives who have devoted their lives to sustainable fisheries.

That’s why this matters. American fishing communities need governance that supports them and the stocks they fish for, and a healthy ecosystem that sustains both. To do this requires using more than fifty percent of your talent pool and allowing in women. If Seahawks coach Pete Carroll left half of his team on the bench, he’d never win.

On the West Coast we’re seeing a “graying of the fleet,” where the average age is likely above fifty and young fishermen are few and far between, and this trend is mirrored in other regions. American fisheries are among the strongest in the world, largely due to laws that keep fish stocks at healthy levels and protect the environment, but this achievement was hard-won over decades of lessons learned from overfishing and the consequent harm to communities and the environment. Today’s management success is fraught and regionalized, especially in the face of climate change.

It’s time to include women. Opening up our fishing fleet to nearly twice as many more people who can bring creativity and a fresh approach could fundamentally improve the way we fish and eat seafood. Bringing more women into the meeting room does the same; studies have shown the benefit of women in governance. Among them, women are more democratic in their governance style with increased emphasis on consensus building and collaboration.

The economic case for including women is obvious, but as an American the case for equality is even more important to me. Diversity in our fisheries will only make us stronger.

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How Good Data Keeps America Fishing http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/02/13/how-good-data-keeps-america-fishing/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/02/13/how-good-data-keeps-america-fishing/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 18:19:43 +0000 Meredith Moore http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13733

A system upgrade that will help ensure there are plenty of fish in the sea. 

There are many ways to have a good day out on the water. The ocean gives us endless opportunities to find joy, exhilaration and happiness—playing on the beach, snorkeling, diving and fishing. Most recreational fishermen I know measure their good days by the number and size of fish they’ve reeled in. But it turns out those numbers are important for another reason, too—that’s critical data that ensures there are plenty of fish left for not just for your next trip but also for your kids’ and their grandkids’ trips.

Recreational fishing is a big deal in areas like the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic. That means a lot of folks are out on the water and those coolers of fish start to add up. In 2015, 8.9 million saltwater anglers took 61 million fishing trips in U.S. waters. This industry is responsible for driving $60 billion in sales impacts into coastal communities through purchases like fishing trips and equipment, spending in hotels and restaurants.

With so much riding on the line, it’s important that we manage our fish sustainably, which means having reliable, accurate data of how many fish we’re taking out our ocean each year. That task falls on the Marine Recreational Information Program or MRIP (em-rip). It is housed in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) but works closely with state and local wildlife programs.

You’ve probably even met a few of the “fish counters” they work with at the docks. They’re the folks that ask how your trip went and collect data on what sorts of fish were caught, how many were taken and how large they were or in what areas you caught them. Whether you fish from the beach, a boat or a pier, MRIP is collecting the information that fishery scientists and managers need to set season lengths, bag limits and catch quotas. The ultimate goal is preventing overfishing so that fish populations are healthy and resilient.

As you can imagine, this is no easy task and there have been problems in the past. Back in 2006, a panel of experts from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) said the four-decade-old program needed to improve its scientific survey methods. It left a lot of fishermen concerned that the data being used for management wasn’t good enough.

This January, the academy released a follow-up analysis that found the MRIP report card has improved dramatically. It stated that, “Work to redesign [MRIP] has yielded impressive progress over the past decade in providing more reliable catch data to fisheries managers.” It recognized “major improvements” in the statistical design of the survey with reduced bias and better sampling. And some of the findings make for funny dinner conversations—did you know that a snail mail survey is more accurate than a phone survey? We have stopped using land lines but we still use our mailboxes! The NAS also highlighted some room for further improvements, especially in harnessing the utility of mobile devices like tablets and cell phones. Ocean Conservancy agrees that this is an area of great opportunity. We have been working at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to implement electronic reporting in the charter for-hire fishery.

Improving data collection will result in better science, better policy and a healthier fishery, which means we can all look forward to more good days on the water!

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Unintended Consequences of the “One In, Two Out” Executive Order: Will America’s Fishermen be the Victims? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/31/unintended-consequences-of-the-one-in-two-out-executive-order-will-americas-fishermen-be-the-victims/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/31/unintended-consequences-of-the-one-in-two-out-executive-order-will-americas-fishermen-be-the-victims/#comments Tue, 31 Jan 2017 20:41:26 +0000 Ivy Fredrickson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13694

Yesterday, President Trump signed an Executive Order that intends to reduce government regulations and associated costs to businesses and the federal government. The President claims this will help small businesses, but for the men and women making their living off the ocean, the order could pose some serious problems.

Known as “one in two out,” the order states that “for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination.”

How does this relate to fisheries? America’s fishermen are constantly adapting—to new science, to changing conditions on the water and to fishing seasons. They rely on fishery managers to make decisions that weigh environmental conditions, the best available science and fishermen input. Armed with this information, managers develop solutions that not only protect our environment, but support commercial and recreational fishing and coastal communities across America. And the method for implementing these day-to-day management decisions? Regulations.

Fishery regulations open seasons, establish catch quotas and test new management concepts. When a disaster happens, like an oil spill, a toxic algal bloom or a sudden decline in fish populations, regulations are the way the government protects fishermen and consumers.

With this order, when fishery managers need to take any sort of action (for example, open the red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico, or change the number of salmon vessels are allowed to catch in the Pacific) those managers will need to find two other regulations they can nullify. Managers’ hands will be tied.

The point: Regulations support the businesses of American fishermen and seafood consumers. Hamstringing fishery managers from issuing routine rules that are needed to run our nation’s fisheries could cause serious trouble for both fish and fishermen. There are a lot of unanswered questions, and at this point it’s very uncertain how things will work under President Trump’s Executive Order. But what is clear is that fishery management may have just gotten much more difficult.

Our fisheries already face new and growing pressures from pollution, environmental variability, and increased demand on resources. The last thing our fishermen need is a misplaced order that suddenly brings a wave of uncertainty to the basic mechanics of how we manage our nation’s fisheries.

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Revolutionary Marine Life Data Released in the Mid-Atlantic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/04/revolutionary-marine-life-data-released-in-the-mid-atlantic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/04/revolutionary-marine-life-data-released-in-the-mid-atlantic/#comments Tue, 04 Oct 2016 16:15:42 +0000 Katie Morgan http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13055

Do you remember how excited we were in June when a revolutionary set of maps depicting where marine mammals, fish, and birds are distributed in New England was released? Well, let’s just say, we were pretty excited. You can only imagine our excitement when the Mid-Atlantic released a similar set of maps this month, characterizing the spatial and temporal distributions for over 100 species in the region.  This is a big deal.

Off the coast of the Mid-Atlantic lies a beautiful and complex ocean ecosystem, from shallow coastal bays to deep offshore canyons. This ecosystem is home to an array of species, many of which move in and out of the region at certain times of the year. In an effort to better understand how species are distributed throughout the region across space and time, a group of scientists undertook one of the largest known efforts to gather and synthesize species data. The draft products were just added to the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal, substantially increasing our knowledge base of marine life for ocean managers, stakeholder, and the public.  While they are draft versions and therefore still subject to review and changes, this is a huge step forward for our understanding of marine life in the region.

Click on the photos below to view gallery

Marine Mammal - Senstivity to Low Frequency Sounds - Core Abundance - MidA Scale surface plungers core abundance area mida scale blog-Avian-Species---High-Collision-Sensitivity-to-Infrastructure---Core-Abundance---Mid-Atlantic-Scale





Interested in knowing marine mammals that are sensitive to high frequency sound are likely to be found? Want to know where endangered bird species are likely to be distributed? What about where the core biomass of forage fish is found? There is now a map for all of that.

Head on over to the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal to explore these data, and more!

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Recreational Fishing: Protecting a Way of Life http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/08/recreational-fishing-protecting-a-way-of-life/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/08/recreational-fishing-protecting-a-way-of-life/#comments Thu, 08 Sep 2016 17:00:54 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12832

By Dennis McKay

All my life, I’ve measured the “good life” with days on the water fishing. Escaping work, shunning worry and forgoing the pressures of daily life to enjoy the elemental world of water, weather and a fish has defined the happiest moments of my life. Actually, it’s a natural inheritance since my family has called Alabama and these Gulf waters home for several hundred years.

As with any natural inheritance, I tend to be protective of my roots. Supporting my protective bent, the United States has some of the best fisheries management practices in the world. The overall law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, is effective because it is implemented using science-based rules, such as annual catch limits and rebuilding timelines, as currently defined by National Standard 1 (NS1). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is responsible for establishing and assessing these rules, and the nation’s eight regional fisheries management councils are mandated to execute them.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, overfishing was so out of control that there were days it was hard to catch a decent sized fish. The fish were small because the vast majority were immature because fishermen from every sector, commercial and recreational, were catching the mature fish more quickly than the juveniles could recruit into the fishery. Frankly, for me it was depressing. I knew what the Gulf was capable of producing, but it was heartbreaking to think that in our rush to enjoy fishing we had nearly destroyed the things we love. The Gulf’s depleted fish stocks were a wake-up call for me, and the MSA provided the opportunity to correct the Gulf’s overfishing trend.

Since 2006, with the MSA’s newest reauthorization containing the explicit mandate to rebuild the nation’s fisheries with the NS1 science-based tools, recreational and commercial fishermen alike have sacrificed and worked with fisheries managers and scientists to halt overfishing, allowing over 30 fish stocks to rebound in the last ten years to sustainable, rebuilt levels.

For example, consider the Gulf’s iconic red snapper. In 2007, fisheries managers had to set the annual catch limit of red snapper at 5,000,000 pounds because the fish stock was decimated. The commercial and charter-for-hire fleets put their heads down and partnered with managers and scientists and worked within the MSA’s inherent flexibility and the Council process to develop fishery management plans that complied with NS1, while working with the sector’s respective fishing styles.

As a result of this hard work, today the catch limit is at 14,000,000 pounds. In other words, in only eight years commercial and recreational fishermen, by embracing NS1, are now allowed to catch almost three times the weight of fish, while continuing to rebuild the red snapper population.

The NS1 successes are not confined to the Gulf’s red snapper, though. Using NS1’s science-based information to make sound management decisions for the Gulf’s fisheries has created more successes across the board. Indeed, NS1 has restored several popular Gulf fish species including: red grouper, gag grouper, yellowtail snapper and king mackerel.

Given the Gulf’s successes, it’s ludicrous that in the next few weeks NOAA Fisheries is contemplating weakening NS1 by relaxing the science-based tools that have proven successful for red snapper and countless other species of fish. Why in heaven’s name would NOAA pick apart an effective management approach that has restored such a high-value resource as our fisheries?

NOAA Fisheries is planning to alter NS1 by replacing strong, science-based rules with weak guidelines that allow fisheries managers to delay ending overfishing by several years, even when managers know overfishing is occurring. The new rules also propose removing the MSA’s oversight of requiring the Secretary of Commerce to review all stock rebuilding plans to determine if they were making progress. Under the new rule, the Secretary is only required to determine if the fishery management plan is being implemented as intended, not necessarily if the fish stock is, or is not improving.

As a recreational fisherman I don’t make my livelihood by fishing. I don’t work as a charter boat captain; I don’t market fish. But NS1 has protected my natural inheritance and way of life. And in the Gulf, heritage runs deep. Thanks to NS1, red snapper have not only increased in number and size, but they have begun to return to fishing grounds in mid- and southern Florida waters where they have not been seen in decades, returning back to me and others the Southern ways of life our Grandfathers enjoyed and instilled in us.

So my children and their children can enjoy and experience their natural inheritances and the Gulf’s way of life, please tell President Obama to protect sustainable fisheries management and defeat the changes proposed for NS1.

Dennis McKay is recreational fisherman in East-Central Alabama.

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When Doing the Right Thing is Also Fun! http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/29/when-doing-the-right-thing-is-also-fun/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/29/when-doing-the-right-thing-is-also-fun/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 18:00:50 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12739

By Chef Kyle Bailey

Doing the right thing can also be fun. For chefs like me, working within the limits required under U.S. sustainable fisheries management law these last ten years hasn’t been a burden, it’s been a bonanza.

Prior to 2006, when overfishing was still rampant in U.S. waters, the fishermen I buy from would often bemoan the fact that they didn’t have Atlantic cod, bluefin tuna or swordfish—the fish species American cuisine had grown to rely on. In other words, no fish and chips, no tuna sushi and no swordfish steak would be on the menu that night.

When the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) was reauthorized in 2006 with new, science-based regulations that put strict caps on catch limits on fisheries that were plummeting, I wondered, maybe I should just take “catch of the day” off my menu.  That kind of attitude could have flattened us, but fishermen are a hardy lot and restaurants like mine offer them high-value markets for their catch. We got creative!

Soon, they were selling yellowtail flounder, white hake, black sea bass and Maryland blue catfish. I started trying all kinds of new preparations and combinations with these delights. As a bottom dweller, white hake eat crustaceans, and as a result, they have this amazing, sweet, scallop flavor! It was like Christmas, I had something new to play with! It was a fun challenge to serve these to my customers. Sure, people come to restaurants to get something to eat, but they also come for the chef’s creativity and the excitement of trying something new. And we’re proud to say that we only serve seafood that has been harvested sustainably. We use seafood from anywhere up and down the eastern seaboard.

Right now, I’m serving Florida grouper with fregula, fresh chickpeas and corn pudding. I also know the farmer who’s selling the corn and the fresh chickpeas are delicious. It’s a light, real summery dish!

Farmed Chesapeake oysters are very good too. And when rockfish is doing a bit better, I’m sure my fishermen friends will have that for me too. Seafood is a chef’s best friend. There’s nothing better than locally harvested seafood—the freshness and flavor are unmatched and that spells a happy customer.

So, it’s been ten years now since Congress gave MSA real teeth, and in that time 30 fish stocks have recovered to the point that fishermen can catch and market them again. Sustainable fisheries management works. And it supports American fisheries, which is really important to me rather than importing seafood from overseas. If sustainable fishing policies were allowed to continue, I could be selling Atlantic cod again.

Unfortunately, in the next few weeks NOAA Fisheries is planning to alter National Standard 1, the rule under MSA that guides our nation’s eight regional fisheries management councils in setting catch limits, assessing the health and abundance of fish stocks, regulating bycatch and other issues. Under MSA we have had strong, science-based rules that established catch limits by conducting annual assessments and reviews. Now, those practices are being replaced by weak guidelines that allow fishery managers to delay remediating overfishing by several years even when managers know overfishing is happening. The rule change also proposes removing oversight. MSA required the Secretary of Commerce to review all stock rebuilding plans to determine if they were making progress. Under the new rule, the Secretary is only required to determine if the plan is being implemented as intended regardless of whether the fish stock is improving.

If NOAA goes through with this rule change, then we’re back to square one. With today’s advanced technology to find and catch fish, it’s easy to overfish. But living within moderate catch limits and having reliable, healthy fish stocks is far better for business—both restaurants and fishermen. And we’ve managed within MSA’s reasonable limits. Frankly, we’ve done more than survive. We’ve thrived!

We’ve even had fun! When reasonable people band together, there’s always a way forward. So I call on you, consumers, restaurant goers and fishermen: Register your compliant with President Obama and tell him to keep our fisheries sustainable!

Take action now and tell NOAA to strengthen, not weaken, our nation’s fishery conservation and management standards.

Chef Kyle Bailey is owner and chef at Sixth Engine in Washington, D.C.

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