Less overfishing, more overfished: NOAA report reveals environmental impacts to stocks

Published on
August 2, 2019

The 2018 NOAA report on the status of U.S. fisheries has been released, and reveals that environmental factors are having the most impact on stocks that are overfished. 

The report, which NOAA puts together every year, indicates that less species were subject to overfishing in 2018 than in 2017 – 28 versus 30 – a year that saw all-time low numbers of overfishing and overfished stocks. That means more than 90 percent of stocks are being fished at a sustainable level. 

However, the number of overfished stocks has increased, with eight more stocks on the list. While one of those stocks – the Atlantic mackerel fishery in the Gulf of Maine/Cape Hatteras – was previously un-assessed, almost every other stock added to the list was likely the result of environmental factors. 

Chinook salmon, in both the Sacramento and Klamath river fall runs; coho salmon, in Puget Sound Snohomish area and the Washington coast Queets and Straight of Juan de Fuca areas; and blue king crab were all added to the overfished list. All six fisheries have been impacted by multiple environmental factors from droughts to the “the Blob,” an area of Pacific waters feature higher-than-average temperatures.

“Some of the salmon stocks listed there have been subject to disaster determinations under recent years,” Alan Risenhoover, director of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Sustainable Fisheries, said during a press conference on 2 August. “Overall if you think of things like salmon along the west coast, where we have five stocks that have been added to the overfished list, there’s a number of things going on.”

Coupled with the warmer Pacific water, droughts along the coast can affect how well salmon can reach their spawning areas. Lower river levels can lead to higher water temperatures and more difficult passage for salmon. 

“There’s a variety of general environmental conditions that are affecting the stocks,” Risenhoover said. 

The last of the eight stocks added to the overfished list, Atlantic bigeye tuna, was largely related to factors outside of NOAA or the eight regional fisheries management council’s control. International harvesting, the report states, has a large impact on the fishery, but the U.S. only accounts for 1 percent of the total landings of the species. 

In terms of fisheries management, however, the report reveals that the Mangusson-Stevens Act has been successful in curbing the amount of overfishing occurring, Risenhoover said. For 2018, eight fisheries – bigeye tuna, Western Central Pacific; coho salmon, Puget Sound: Stillaguamish; Caribbean spiny lobster, Puerto Rico; Puerto Rico triggerfishes and filefishes complex; greater amberjack, Gulf of Mexico; gray triggerfish, Gulf of Mexico; and red grouper, Southern Atlantic Coast – were taken off of the overfished list. 

One stock is now considered rebuilt. The Gulf of Maine smooth skate fishery is now considered rebuilt, after a nine-year rebuilding plan – including a prohibition on landings – successfully boosted the population to sustainable levels.

Of the species added to the overfishing list, Atlantic mackerel was added after the first assessment ever in the fishery. The other four were: Chinook salmon, Columbia River Basin: Upper River, summer; gray snapper, Gulf of Mexico; lane snapper, Gulf of Mexico; and yellowfin tun, Eastern Pacific.

Overall, according to Risenhoover, the report highlights that the science-based approach to fisheries management is working, but it also needs to adapt as environmental factors affect where the majority of stocks are distributed. 

“The places we’ve done our stock assessments and gotten our data from in the past may need to adapt as well,” he said. “There’s a number of places where I think our environment is having an effect, and we need to make sure our management is keeping up with it.”

Photo courtesy of NOAA

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500