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Michael Souza

Michael's Fishery Blog


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Oceana report ignores successes bycatch reduction

Thursday May 29, 2014
Omissions shortchanges the current state of bycatch management but could boost contributions as its 2014 fundraising season begins

Oceana, a worldwide environmental organization, issued a report in March 2014, touting bycatch as a colossal environmental problem. It was called Wasted Catch: Unsolved Problems in U.S. Fisheries, and it barely mentions any success made in improving fishery population. Mostly it paints the industry in a gloomy position.


But Oceana accomplished their goal of spreading the dire message to all other forms of the media. The report provides little or no information about the significant and successful efforts taken by many commercial fisheries to curb unintended catch, called bycatch.. In their report, Oceana consistently presented the data in a way that magnified alleged problems. Then Oceana began promoting this picture as part of its fundraising campaign, referring to "badly managed fisheries" and "badly enforced regulations." Lee Crockett, director of U.S. Oceans at The Pew Charitable Trusts, another environmental organization, agreed.

According to a Saving Seafood report, several prominent U.S. fisheries have made great strides in controlling their bycatch through innovative new gear modifications and cooperative efforts with scientists and fisheries managers. This includes the Atlantic sea scallop fishery, the Yellowtail Flounder fishery, the swordfish fishery and the development of different gear for different species such as the Ruhle net.

The environmental tourism of fisheries and their collapse.

Tuesday May 27, 2014

From harvester to tour guide

Captain Ed Farley is building a tourism business around his expertise in the Chesapeake Bay. After spending the winter oystering, Farley fills his summer with educational sailing tours on his skipjack.

The sail-powered boat is part of a rapidly dissolving fleet. According to Farley, there were only 23 still in the water, he says, and only six skipjacks continue to oyster.

Photo: NOAA

The dwindling fleet was designated one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2002 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation . Think about that -

Farley shows tourists the empty oyster shells brought up from the bottom. A few live ones can be picked up but for the most part it looks like oyster shrapnel. He tells them the oysters died in 1985 from the parasites that wiped out the rest of the area. He also says that 30 years later the parasite is still a mystery and that some fisheries are very difficult to manage.

Make way for the Asian Shore Crab

Monday May 26, 2014

Just another invasive species

It is the plague of Long Island, Fishers Island and Block Island sound, and it's making its way up and down the Atlantic coast. The Asian Shore Crab, Hemigrapsus sanguineus, is on the move and heading to a fishery near you.

The invasive species arrived in New Jersey in a ship's ballast water in the 80's, and by '94 it was in the Long Island Sound. Some have called it the "Bully Of The Beach," because like all invasives, it is pushing out other species of crab.

Scientists at Clinton's Cedar Island Marina Research Lab in Connecticut are hoping to learn how to contain the crab. Like most invasives, it's highly adaptable and is moving in on other habitats.

According to Beth Patrizzi, the lab director, the Asian Shore Crab was taking over the homes of fiddler crabs and purple marsh crabs. In marshes the the salinity level is much lower, thus the crab can live in just about any salinity.

Marine scientists point to another Asian invasive species, the Chinese Mitten Crab, which is already in American waters and could soon come to Connecticut.

The crab was first identified on American shores in New Jersey in 1988.  It's since made its way as far north as Schoodic Point, Maine, and as far south as North Carolina. It is expected to continue moving northward along the Maine coast.  The crab is indigenous to waters from southern Russia to Hong Kong.

As if that isn't bad enough, The Japanese shore crab is invading Long Island Sound and crowding out native species.

United Nations FAO - 70 percent% of global fish stocks fished within sustainable limits

Thursday May 22, 2014

Reflects 2012 data

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has released its latest "State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture" report, and it concludes that 70 percent of wild capture fisheries are now being fished within biologically sustainable limits.

This is a "reversal in trend observed during the past few years, a positive sign in the right direction," says the FAO. Global capture fisheries remained stable at 80 million tons.

Also, aquaculture production continues to surge. Global aquaculture production marked a record high of more than 90 million tons in 2012, including almost 24 million tons of aquatic plants. China accounted for over 60 percent of the total share.

Other positive trends were the increase in employment in fisheries and aquaculture and the fact that seafood now accounts for 17 percent of global protein consumption.

The report emphasizes the importance and positive role of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries which, since its adoption almost two decades ago, remains key to achieving sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. More people than ever before rely on fisheries and aquaculture for food and as a source of income says the report.

Also, global fisheries and aquaculture production totaled 158 million tons in 2012, about 10 million tons more than 2010. The rapid expansion of aquaculture, including the activities of small-scale farmers, is driving this growth in production. Fish farming holds tremendous promise in responding to surging demand for food which is taking place due to global population growth, the report says.

At the same time, the planet's oceans - if sustainably managed - have an important role to play in providing jobs and feeding the world, according to the report.

With thanks to Seafood.com.

Farm vs. Fresh, 60 Minutes Says No Difference

Monday May 19, 2014

Which is better to feed your family? On assignment for 60 Minutes, Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently talked about salmon. For those who are convinced that wild salmon is healthier than farmed salmon, Dr. Sanjay Gupta says, think again.

"What was surprising to me and I think to a lot of people was that if you compare farm salmon versus wild salmon, there actually wasn't that big a difference between the Omega-3 levels," Gupta told 60 Minutes Overtime. "The farmed salmon industry has changed what they're feeding their salmon over the years and it's improved."

Though pollutants like PCBs are higher in farmed salmon, Gupta says the levels in both farm-raised and wild-caught are not high enough to be considered problematic by the FDA. "The levels are so low it's almost a drop in the bucket," said Gupta.

Today, farmed salmon is so common that three-quarters of the salmon that winds up on American dinner plates is farm-raised. If you see "salmon" listed on a restaurant menu, there's a good chance it's farmed, says Gupta. Most restaurants will specifically say "wild-caught" or "wild" to indicate that the salmon wasn't grown on a farm.

Gupta and producer Peter Klein reported on the controversy around salmon farms for the 60 Minutes broadcast on May 11, 2014. Some environmentalists are concerned that farms could spread disease into the wild salmon population, and they urge consumers to avoid buying the product.

Salmon farmers say the industry has improved its safety measures and that eating farmed salmon reduces fishing pressure on wild population. Ian Roberts, who works in the salmon farming industry, told Gupta that what motivates wild salmon enthusiasts is nothing more than snobbery.

To those who will refuse farm-raised and only eat wild-caught salmon, Gupta says: "If you're doing it because you think it's better for your health, you'd have a hard time making that case. "If you're doing it for the wild salmon themselves as opposed to your human health, that's a stronger argument," said Gupta.

Magnuson Reauthorization Puts East Coast Against West Coast

Saturday May 17, 2014

The Magnuson-Stevens Act expired last September. Republicans in the House Natural Resources Committee and Democrats in the Senate Commerce Committee have released separate bills to update the 2006 reauthorization.

However, each draft has split fishing factions by coastlines. Bering Sea crabbers and West Coast commercial groundfish harvesters, for instance, want the law's conservation measures left largely intact. But some of their counterparts in New England and the Gulf of Mexico are demanding key changes. The collapse or overexploitation of such iconic stocks as cod and red snapper have battered their livelihoods and the fishermen want more elastic mandates on overfishing and on rebuilding depleted fish populations.

The nation's chief fisheries law was enacted in 1976 in a climate of alarm: the oceans were losing fish faster than they could reproduce, and most of the diminishing harvests were being taken by fleets of Russian and Japanese trawlers, floating factories. In response, Congress passed the legislation now commonly called the Magnuson-Stevens Act. It asserted exclusive American fishing rights out to 200 miles from shore. It also entrusted the federal government to protect Alaska pollock, Atlantic haddock and hundreds of other stocks from overfishing and to guard the water's bounty for perpetuity. 

U.S. fisheries on the whole are rebounding from catastrophic overfishing that pushed some species to possible extinction. The groups oppose, among other things, language aimed at reducing incidental bycatches. They also claim the bill reflects a crusade by Oceana, an environmental advocacy group, to curtail fishing for Alaska pollock -- one of the Bering Sea's most lucrative catches -- by imposing new conservation and management standards on forage fish.

But some Democratic lawmakers say the Magnuson-Stevens Act must be strengthened to protect fish that are threatened by changing climate and ecosystems. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, a member of the fisheries subcommittee, is seeking to amend the act to require research into which fisheries might be most at risk from ocean acidification and increased assessments of the health of the stocks. Since 2011, Congress has held a dozen hearings on how to rewrite the law. A second Senate draft is expected soon, and new hearings could resume as early as June 2014.

News update: Seattle Times

Chesapeake sees drop in female blue crabs

Thursday May 15, 2014

According to an annual winter dredge survey by marine officials, the number of spawning-age female blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay has dropped significantly. The results of the survey has prompted Virginia and Maryland officials to focus on protecting and building up the population.

The number of spawning-age female crabs dropped below the minimum safe level of 70 million and are in a depleted state. The number of juvenile crabs increased and last year's harvest remained at a safe level for the sixth consecutive year, but the total number of crabs remains comparatively low at about 297 million.

The Virginia Marine Resources Department must now conserving adult females and conserve this new generation of crabs in order to increase their chances of reproducing in even larger numbers next year. The annual survey serves as the primary assessment of the Chesapeake Bay's blue crab population. It uses dredges to sample blue crabs at 1,500 sites throughout the bay from December through March.

Crabs live in a constantly changing ecosystem and abundance levels are influenced by coastal currents, weather patterns, predators, water temperatures and a host of other factors. The long cold winter is suspected to have contributed to the low numbers. Low water temperatures led to the death of about 28 percent of all adult crabs in Maryland, one of the worst cold-kill events since the start of the survey in 1990.

Although the juvenile crab population increased 78 percent from a record low seen in 2013, levels remain below those seen in before 2008, when officials began a coordinated effort to rebuild crab stock in the bay. Officials said management efforts going forward will be aimed at producing a more productive and vibrant recreational and commercial blue crab fishery in 2015.

Albacore MSC Certifications Merged

Tuesday May 13, 2014

North and South Fisheries Now Sustainable

The American Albacore Fishing Association and Western Fishboat Owners Association have announced the merging of their individual Marine Stewardship Council fishery certifications.

The two groups now share one certificate for the North Pacific fishery and one for South Pacific fishery. AAFA and WFOA represent the vast majority of US West Coast pole and line albacore fishermen.

The certification of these fisheries, conducted by a third-party certifying body - almost exclusively the Marine Stewardship Council - assures buyers and consumers that the albacore tuna they supply is from a well-managed and sustainable fishery.

AAFA and WFOA are recognized leaders in sustainable fishery practices; they use the classic techniques of pole and line and troll/jig fishing, catching one fish at time, so there is virtually no by-catch on non-target species and zero interaction with marine mammals. Recent and ongoing international stock assessments by the International Science Committee and the Albacore Working Group show the albacore stocks remain stable.

The merging of these certifications demonstrates a sustainable resource base for supplying consumers with the highest quality albacore. Under the MSC program, seafood products with the MSC ecolabel are traceable back to an MSC-certified fishery. All albacore deliveries by AAFA and WFOA members are tracked through processing and marketing right to the consumer.

The West Coast albacore fishery comprises a fleet of small-boat fishermen from coastal communities where commercial fishing operations have passed from generation to generation. Albacore are hand-caught by hook and line, then quickly chilled, iced, or frozen at sea to ensure top quality.

News: The FishSite

The Magnuson-Stevens Act rewrite

Tuesday April 29, 2014

Guiding legislation to be either rebooted or more restrictive.

The newest version of the Magnuson-Stevens Act out for discussion adds subsistence users and Tribal governments to the fisheries management law and has the potential to create new community development quota in the Arctic, but it has not yet been made widely available to the public for review.

The act passed in 1976, which was last reauthorized in 2006 and is up for renewal this year, regulates most fisheries in American federal waters from 3 to 200 miles offshore, and authorizes the eight regional fishery management councils. The most recent draft was produced by the Senate Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee chaired by Alaskan Sen. Mark Begich. .

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich

The Senate's discussion draft of the law adds subsistence to the types of fishing being managed alongside commercial and recreational, adds subsistence to the fishery categories eligible for representation on regional fishery management councils. The draft is dated April 3, 2014. It had not yet been posted online but is reportedly due out soon. On April 8, a Senate Commerce Committee staffer emailed the draft to a list of lobbyists and executives representing various commercial fishing interests throughout the country, including processors and harvesters in Alaska, and some who represent Pacific Northwest Tribal groups, although no Alaska Native or Tribal organizations were on that list.

Lobbyists on the list represent Northeast, South Atlantic and Gulf Coast fishing interests.  Houton's email also invited the lobbyists and executives to a meeting on Capitol Hill April 15 to discuss the draft. A final bill could pass in late summer or early fall, he said, but that seems historically optimistic.

The House Natural Resources Committee released its own discussion draft of the act in December. At that time, the draft was posted online, a press release was sent out, and the committee set up an email specifically for MSA comments. The House had gone through a public process to develop the draft and make it available for comment, but it is unknown whether the discussion draft had been made available to select groups before it was released to the public as a whole.

The draft also addresses capital funds for fishing infrastructure, and allows facilities other than vessels to be eligible for funding. It also changes the language relative to bycatch. Instead of calling for fishery managers to minimize bycatch, it calls for bycatch to be avoided. The draft also calls for certain ecosystem-based policies and goals, and more explicit management of forage fish, including accounting for dependent fish when setting annual catch limits. It also requires more study and use of electronic monitoring, specifically in the North Pacific. As currently proposed, stock assessments would be required at least every five years.

Value of Virginia aquaculture soars

Sunday April 27, 2014

Report says $45.1 million and "all-time high"

According to a survey of shellfish aquaculture conducted by William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Virginia Sea Grant, and issues in April 2014, Virginia's shellfish growers sold an estimated 31 million oysters and 214.4 million clams in 2013, for a total value of $45.1 million.

The figure is the highest in history. It represents a 10 percent increase in oyster sales and a 25 percent increase in clam sales since 2012, or only one year. While the increase continues a long-term trend of growth, the increase in clam sales represents year-to-year variation in a steady industry.

According to authors Karen Hudson and Tom Murray of the Marine Advisory Services program at VIMS, the figures show that the shellfish industry is healthy. Hatchery production remains critical to the continued growth of both intensive and extensive oyster aquaculture. Hudson says that the industry is taking proactive steps to improve hatchery operations to supply the demand for young oysters that can grow out into marketable adults.

In intensive culture, growers plant individual oysters in containers such as off-bottom cages, then carefully tend them for harvest in the half-shell market. In extensive culture, growers allow oyster larvae to settle on old oyster shells in large tanks, plant the resulting spat in the field almost immediately, and then allow them to grow freely on the bottom into clumps of oysters that are harvested for sale as shucked meat.

The "Virginia Shellfish Aquaculture Situation and Outlook Report" has been produced annually since 2005. The 2013 results are drawn from 80 completed surveys. Respondents include 21 clam  growers, 67 oyster growers, 15 clam and oyster growers, and 5 shellfish hatcheries. 

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