NOAA Fisheries: Overfished U.S. stocks at all-time low

By

James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
April 16, 2015

The U.S. government on Wednesday reported that the number of domestic fish stocks listed as overfished or subject to overfishing has dropped to an all-time low since 1997, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began tracking stock status.

The 2014 Status of U.S. Fisheries report to Congress, produced annually since 1997, highlights continued progress towards sustainable fishery management.

Six stocks — snowy grouper on the southern Atlantic coast; North Atlantic albacore; haddock in the Gulf of Maine; gag grouper in the South Atlantic; the Jacks complex in the Gulf of Mexico; and, Bluefin tuna in the western Atlantic — were removed from the overfishing list. Two stocks were no longer listed as overfished — gag grouper in the Gulf of Mexico, and North Atlantic albacore, which was removed from both lists.

A stock is on the overfishing list when the annual catch rate is too high. A stock is on the overfished list when the population size of a stock is too low, whether because of fishing or other causes.

“This report illustrates that the science-based management process under the Magnuson-Stevens Act is working to end overfishing and rebuild stocks,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “While we have made tremendous progress, we know there’s more work to be done -- especially as we continue to document changes to our world’s oceans and ecosystems. We will continue to strive toward sustainable management of our nation’s fisheries in order to preserve our oceans for future generations.”

The report found that Gulf of Maine/Cape Hatteras butterfish, Gulf of Mexico gag grouper and Mid-Atlantic golden tilefish were rebuilt to target levels in 2014, bringing the total number of rebuilt U.S. marine fish stocks to 37 since 2000.

“Our agency wants to let consumers know that the United States’ global leadership in responsible fisheries and sustainable seafood is paying off,” Sobeck said. “We are moving forward more than ever with efforts to replicate and export stewardship practices internationally. As a result of the combined efforts of NOAA Fisheries, the regional fishery management councils, and all of our partners, the number of stocks listed as subject to overfishing or overfished continues to decline and is at an all-time low.”

Greenpeace Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar tempered the excitement of the government agency’s news with a reminder that commercial fisheries managers need to do more to protect vulnerable ocean habitat and factor in the uncertainties associated with climate change.

“The progress that has been made toward eliminating overfishing in U.S. waters is encouraging and a testament to the effectiveness of our federal fisheries policy, the Magnuson-Stevens Act,” Hocevar said. “However, we still have a long way to go before we can rest on our laurels. Too little attention has been paid to protecting the habitat that sustains fish and other types of marine life, and too much industrial fishing relies on methods that are overly destructive. Bycatch remains a serious problem for many fisheries, sometimes with major implications for whales, sea turtles, and other protected species.”

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