Every year a crowd of fisherman and fishing community members gather in Astoria, Oregon, to share stories, recite poetry and sing music. FisherPoets, founded by a small group of Pacific Northwest fisherman in 1998, is an opportunity for the commercial small-boat community, friends and locals to gather together away from the docks. No trips to the store, no scrubbing of decks, no mending of nets. Just friends, family and plenty to drink.
A couple of weeks ago I went on a mackerel fishing trip out of St. Petersburg, Florida, with a 35-year commercial fishing veteran. It was a beautiful day and there was the slightest tinge of autumn out on the Gulf of Mexico, and we quickly caught the day’s order of Spanish and King mackerel. Heading back through John’s Pass I asked my friend, who also fishes for Gulf snapper and grouper, how business has been and without missing a beat he said “The last two years have been the best of my career.”
A successful fishing trip depends on more than just the number of fish in the sea. It is dependent upon a multitude of complicating factors including the weather conditions, your ability to catch fish and even lack of engine problems to name a few.
Like a fishing trip, sustainable management of our fisheries requires more than just counting the number of fish in the sea. A sustainable catch level requires an understanding of the environment they live in. Fish need suitable habitat to live, other fish to eat, and will eventually become prey for bigger fish, including humans. Furthermore, fish live in a dynamic, changing ocean. When fisheries managers consider these ‘complicating’ factors in the setting of sustainable catch levels, the process is called ecosystem-based fisheries management.
Another crucial U.S. fish stock is rebuilt, reinforcing the importance of a strong Magnuson-Stevens Act
Earlier this week federal managers of West Coast U.S. fish stocks found that canary rockfish is rebuilt. This is great news for fishermen, seafood consumers, and conservationists, as it means a healthy population that puts more fresh seafood on American plates and supports a stronger ocean ecosystem. Canary rockfish is important in its own right as a species, but this finding allows for increased fishing of other fish populations that swim alongside it – canary is common as bycatch, or non-targeted species that also get caught in fishing gear, and increased catch levels will enable greater fishing opportunities of other species.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council, the federal group that co-manages our nation’s fisheries off of Washington, Oregon, and California approved the analysis done by NOAA Fisheries today, starting what will most likely be a revision of catch limits, and an official update to the “Status of Stocks,” NOAA Fisheries’ official score-keeping tabulation of stocks nationally.
Since 2007, the percentage of stocks that are facing overfishing, or that are already overfished, has decreased—even though fishing is increasing. This points to positive rebuilding progress for our nation’s fisheries. It is clear that sound science and managing the long term future of our fisheries is working for America’s fish stocks as well as for the country’s economy.
While we may have a new Congress, they are still fishing for the same trouble. Despite hearing from more than 31,000 Ocean Conservancy members to throw the bill back, Representative Don Young (R-AK) reintroduced the same legislation attempting to weaken our federal fisheries law that former Representative Doc Hastings was pushing last year.
This bill is a step back for America’s fisheries, fishermen and coastal communities. Instead of gutting our nation’s fishery conservation safeguards, we should be strengthening the Magnuson-Stevens Act to support healthy, productive fisheries and fishing communities.
In June of 2013 the international body that manages tuna fish in the Eastern Pacific Ocean drafted and approved a resolution to protect whale sharks. The resolution isn’t groundbreaking; the New York Times didn’t report, Anderson Cooper wasn’t on the scene, and Greenpeace didn’t raise the flag. In fact, in the year it took to make U.S. compliance official via rulemaking in September 2014, even the fish-heads and whale shark lovers here at Ocean Conservancy barely noticed. This is a good thing.
Too often fisheries management is mired in relatively small, but high-profile, fights. The fact that the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) quietly prohibited tuna fishermen, who hail from many nations around the Pacific, from using whale sharks as de facto Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) marks another small but important step towards saving some of the world’s most iconic species and preserving a healthy ocean.