US fisheries report reveals all-time-low numbers of overfishing, overfished stocks

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2017 Status of Stocks report, released on 17 May, indicates that the number of stocks facing overfishing or that are overfished is at an all-time-low since reports began in 2000. 

Just 30 of the 317 stocks with known overfishing status were subject to overfishing, representing nine percent of the total stocks. Of the 235 stocks with known overfished status, just 35, or 15 percent, were considered overfished. 

“Over 90 percent of our stocks are not subject to overfishing,” said Alan Risenhoover, director of NOAA"s Office of Sustainable Fisheries during a press conference. “This progress, outlined in the report, is the result of shared efforts of many partners.”

NOAA considered the report to also show a boon for the economy. Nationwide, the seafood industry represented USD 208 billion (EUR 176 billion) in value for the U.S. economy, and accounted for roughly 1.6 million jobs. 

Risenhoover reported three previously overfished stocks are now considered to have been rebuilt: bocaccio, darkblotched rockfish, and Pacific ocean perch. All three were rebuilt ahead of schedule. The addition of those three species now makes 44 stocks that have been rebuilt since 2000. NOAA tracks 474 stocks in total, in 46 different fishery management plans. 

Conservation organizations welcomed the news that stocks that are overfished or subject to overfishing has reached new lows.

“That is good news indeed, as overfishing remains a serious problem globally. We celebrate this progress with all those who fought so hard for the regulations that got us here,” Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaigner John Hocevar said in a statement sent to SeafoodSource.

Six fish species were removed from the overfishing list: sailfish in the western Atlantic, blue king crab in the Pribilof Islands, Puerto Rico wrasses complex, coho salmon in the Hood Canal in Pugent Sound, winter flounder in Georges Banks, and witch flounder on the Northwestern Atlantic coast. 

Six species were also added to the overfishing list: Greater amberjack in the Gulf of Mexico, red grouper in the Southern Atlantic coast, coho salmon in the Stillaguamish River area in Pugent Sound, shortfin mako in the North Atlantic, red hake in the Southern Georges Banks/Mid-Atlantic, and gray triggerfish in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Six species were removed from the overfished list: yelloweye rockfish on the Pacific Coast, winter flounder in Georges Bank, gray triggerfish in the Gulf of Mexico, red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, Pacific ocean perch on the Pacific Coast, and bluefin tuna in the Western Atlantic. 

Three species were added to the overfished list: red grouper on the Southern Atlantic Coast, shortfin mako in the North Atlantic, and red hake in the Southern Georges Banks/Mid-Atlantic. 

A further three species were given first time status determinations, which were neither overfished or subject to overfishing. Spiny dogfish, on the Pacific coast, and the St. Croix wrasses complex, were both found to not be subject to overfishing. Golden king crab, in the Aleutian Islands, was found to not be overfished. 

Risenhoover noted during the press conference that changing environmental factors and changing stocks will likely continue to see species added and removed from the overfished and overfishing lists on into the future. 

“There’s going to continue to be some overfished stock on our report,” he said. “I think it’s going to evolve over time with different stocks coming on and off, and that’s part of our management program, to be able to react to those when we see new issues arise.”

Hocevar, in his statement, said that Greenpeace believes further efforts are still needed to address issues within the fishing industry, aside from just overfishing.

“We need to do more to prevent fishing gear from damaging seafloor habitats and to reduce bycatch, especially for threatened species. We need to broaden our understanding of what is overfished to include time and place – localized depletion can be deadly for whales, seals, and seabirds who are unable to find food where they expect it.” 

Risenhoover said addressing the challenges NOAA and other regulatory bodies will face as climate change, warming waters, and moving fish stocks make determining the way stocks are allocated more difficult is a key part of the organization’s future mission. 

“I think in the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic, fish stocks are probably doing three things: they may be expanding their range; they may be heading to deeper, cooler waters; or they be moving along the coast north,” he said. “All of those create issues for our scientists.”

Evolving quotas for fisheries, as well as determining stocks, will require diligence from NOAA and other management agencies.

“How do we adapt or evolve these quotas over time," Risenhoover posited, "So it’s still fair to those who have been dependent on these fisheries for years?”


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