Usually I leave short commentary and links to interesting news on Twitter, but three recent stories piqued my interest and warrant more discussion here. And no, none of them are about whale trading, which has been covered far better by others in the blue blogosphere. Instead, these stories involve sea creatures that actually breathe water and the people who try to make a living off of them.
Starting off all the way at the top, NOAA Fisheries Administrator Eric Schwaab announced that the goal of having a management plan for all federally managed fisheries has been met. Previously, some data poor or primarily bycatch fisheries had no set catch limits of management plans. Now there is theoretically at least some accountability for any species landed in the U.S. Some of these fisheries remain data-poor, and fishery complexes are still a problem in cases where life history varies among the target species, but there is now a framework to potentially manage everything. As Amy at Southern Fried Science points out, this announcement also has the distinction of being one of the few truly bipartisan government actions in the past few years. And this one doesn’t even involve indefinite detention of American citizens. There will be kinks to work out and bumps in the road, but this is quite the milestone.
Scaling down to state level, my old home state of Rhode Island has a gap in fisheries management that is leading to potential big problems for the state’s fishermen and marine environment. According to this thorough summary and call to action at The Dented Bucket, pair-trawlers, huge fishing vessels targeting entire schools of Atlantic herring, are allowed to operate within the 3-mile boundary of Rhode Island’s state waters. This includes an apparent “hot spot” that is actually inside Narragansett Bay, where these large vessels can be a major disruption to the smaller fishing vessels typically found within state waters. What’s more, this spot is at the mouth of the Narrow River, an estuary that leads up to Gilbert Stuart Brook, one of the state’s major herring runs (and the site of a fish ladder popular with area schools). J.P. is calling for rational action to convince the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to ban these bulls in the China shop (from out of state, no less) until a better management strategy can be developed. Unfortunately I’m no longer a Rhode Island resident and can’t get more directly involved than spreading the word, but if you are a citizen of the Ocean State start talking to your friendly neighborhood DEM official.
We end our fisheries management news update at my new home, where the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries has issued a proclamation closing that state’s spiny dogfish fishery north of Browns Inlet and cutting the daily limit for vessels fishing south of the inlet to 500 lbs. Browns Inlet is south of Bogue Inlet and Morehead City, and this proclamation effectively closes the dogfish fishery in North Carolina. Dogfish can be fairly common south of Cape Hatteras to Cape Lookout, and during the winter can be found as far south as Georgia on a regular basis, but the vast majority of the population inhabits waters north of Cape Lookout. Even if dogfish can be found in the open area, the daily catch limit has still be dramatically reduced. This comes frighteningly close on the heels of a 50% hike in the dogfish quota (after a proposed 75% hike, yikes), which only happened in late November. Were rosy projections of the health of the dogfish stock overblown, leading to managers having to scramble to keep fishing mortality down? Or is this an artifact of fewer dogfish migrating into North Carolina waters due to a warmer than average winter? It will be interesting to see the reactions of other states in the fishery. If other states (particularly Massachusetts and Virginia) close their fisheries early like North Carolina, it may mean that the dogfish stock wasn’t ready for increased quotas. Of course some will still argue that there are too many.
Catch limits and herring trawlers and dogfish, oh my. Lots going on in fisheries management lately.